What is Torticollis and How Can it be Treated?

Sep 28th, 2019 | by Lisa Murphy OTD, OTR/L, SWC
Lisa Murphy OTD, OTR/L, SWC

Lisa Murphy OTD, OTR/L, SWC

September 28th, 2019

Studies reveal that as many as 3 in every 100 infants are impacted by torticollis. Parents may start to worry when a baby’s head starts tilting to one side or if they prefer to look only in one direction. Your doctor may have noticed a head tilt at your baby’s last check-up. Infant torticollis (tor-ti-col-lis) is easily diagnosable by tightened muscles on one side of the neck, which leaves your baby’s head at a tilt and/or rotation.

What Is Torticollis?

Torticollis refers to symptoms that arise when neck muscles twist, flex or extend beyond their normal position. Infant torticollis happens when the muscles that connect the breastbone and collarbone to the skull (sternocleidomastoid muscle) are shortened. 

The majority of torticollis cases are the result of a child being born with torticollis. This is referred to as congenital torticollis. Congenital torticollis is most commonly attributed to how the baby was positioned in utero. Other causes of infant torticollis may be prematurity, birth trauma, abnormalities of the spine and neck, and in rare cases more serious genetic diagnoses. In very rare cases, a child may acquire torticollis as the result of an infection or trauma. 

Signs and Symptoms of Torticollis

If your child has torticollis, you may notice signs that include:

  • A noticeable head tilt to one side
  • A flat spot on the baby’s skull
  • Tense and tender neck and shoulder muscles on the affected side
  • Unwillingness to turn her head to one side
  • Sustained or recurring muscle spasms in the neck area
  • Eyes that look upward involuntarily
  • Tongue protrusion
  • Shoulder pain, neck cramps, muscle tightness or headaches
  • General irritability, drowsiness or vomiting

Infant Torticollis Treatment

If you have concerns that your child may have torticollis, contact your pediatrician immediately. Your pediatrician will likely recommend physical therapy which will consist of stretches and developmental positions to help strengthen your child’s neck,

You can also be proactive at home! Here are 3 ways you can help improve your child’s torticollis. 

  1. Be conscious of how you position your child in his/her crib, highchair, swing. Try turning your child so that he/she has to rotate their head in the non-preferred direction to interact with the environment. 
  2. Limit the amount of time your baby spends in ‘baby containers’ – this includes infant car seats and swings. We recommend spending as much time on the floor as possible.  
  3. Tummy time is a great way to strengthen neck muscles! We know that tummy time can be tough for some babies. Try tummy time in more manageable spurts of 1 minute, three times in a tummy time session to build up baby’s tolerance. Some babies tolerate tummy time better when placed over a boppy pillow. 

Torticollis Products

Our therapists love the following products in conjunction with therapy for the treatment of torticollis. 

  • The Ubimed Lifenest: Thanks to its netted area, Lifenest redistributes pressure away from soft spots! This is crucial for all babies, especially those with torticollis!
  • Ellie Ears: Provides positioning support. Works better than rolled blankets or towels because it stays in place and doesn’t unravel.
  • Activity gyms: The wide array of activity gyms available encourage tummy time.

The key to torticollis is to be proactive in seeking the appropriate treatment. At NAPA Center, we offer custom-designed treatment programs that will take your child’s unique needs into consideration. If you’d like to schedule a consultation to learn more, get in touch with us today.

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