photo of a mother holding a baby that has torticollis

Is This Serious? My Baby’s Head Won’t Turn!

Jennifer Cheng Neck pain

There is so much to think and worry about after having a baby that it can start to feel overwhelming. The health of your baby is essential but being uninformed can be all the more frustrating. So what do you do when you notice that your baby’s neck isn’t moving properly? Today we’ll discuss a common cause for this and what you can do to help your baby.

What to do if your Baby isn’t Turning Their Head

So If after the first couple of weeks of bringing your baby home, they don’t seem to like to turn their neck to one side, your baby could have something called torticollis. Torticollis is defined as “the postural positioning that happens when a head is twisted and turned to one side” [2]. That’s a complex way of saying that, torticollis is when your baby’s head is tilting to one side, and they are unable to move to correct it.

What Causes Torticollis?

Many things can cause torticollis, but the most common cause is related to muscular abnormalities, where head turning is limited because of restriction in the muscle that turns the head [2]. Torticollis has become more common in recent years, and up to 16% of newborns have evidence of torticollis [2]. This is understandable because torticollis usually occurs after a traumatic or breech labour and with current technology, more and more infants are surviving these births. In summary, torticollis can be caused by:

  • Tight or restricted muscles
  • Musclar abnormalities
  • Tramatic birth
  • Breech birth/breech labour

How do I Tell if my Baby Has Torticollis?

Some common signs seen in infants with torticollis include [2]:

  • Infant’s head side bending and rotating to the opposite direction
  • Skull or facial asymmetry
  • Jaw asymmetry
  • The infant has difficulty breastfeeding equally well on both breasts
  • The eye or ear are on one side is smaller
  • Shoulder is shrugged
  • The trunk is bending to one side

Torticolis is more common in males and more often occurs on the left side. If the above signs are present, we suggest seeing a physiotherapist as soon as possible. You do not need a doctor’s referral to see a physiotherapist, and if needed, they will suggest you see a paediatrician.  

What Can I do if my Baby Has Torticollis?

Fortunately, with participation from the child’s caregiver(s), physiotherapy has been shown to be very effective in treating torticollis physiotherapy is an effective treatment for torticollis, especially for infants that are diagnosed early and have a less severe range of motion limitation. In very rare situations, (depending on severity) surgery may be needed, but in 90% of cases, conservative treatment and physiotherapy provide excellent results [4]. With appropriate consultations and treatment, the average time for resolution is three months.

Early treatment is very important in the recovery of torticollis because at a young age muscles are still very pliable [3]. Some of the things you can do at home with your infant are [5,1]:

  • Stretching (as advised by a physiotherapist)
  • Encouraging rotation/ tilting of the head with toys and sounds
  • Minimizing amount of sitting in a car seat
  • Increasing “tummy time”
  • Positioning to encourage turning in a limited direction (during breastfeeding/moving crib to face door on the limited side)

Even though muscular abnormalities make up 80% of the cases for torticollis, it is not the only cause of those symptoms [3]. It is essential that you consult your physiotherapist and if needed your paediatrician for an appropriate diagnosis and treatment plan that is specific for your child! Find a clinic near you. 

 

References:

  1. Christensen C, Landsettle A, Antoszewski S, et al. Conservative management of congenital muscular torticollis: an evidence-based algorithm and preliminary treatment parameter recommendations. Phys Occup Ther Pediatr 2013; 33:453–466.
  2. Kuo AA1, Tritasavit S, Graham JM Jr. Congenital muscular torticollis and positional plagiocephaly.Pediatr Rev. 2014 Feb;35(2):79-87; doi: 10.1542/pir.35-2-79.
  3. Carenzio G1, Carlisi E, Morani I, Tinelli C, Barak M, Bejor M, Dalla Toffola E. Early rehabilitation treatment in newborns with congenital muscular torticollis. Eur J Phys Rehabil Med. 2015 Oct;51(5):539-45.
  4. Suhr MC1, Oledzka M. Considerations and intervention in congenital muscular torticollis. Curr Opin Pediatr. 2015 Feb;27(1):75-81.
  5. Kaplan SL, Coulter C, Fetters L. Physical therapy management of congenital muscular torticollis: an evidence-based clinical practice guideline. Pediatr Phys Ther 2013; 25:348–394.

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