Babies and Torticollis
by Christina Whithers, Physical Therapist
Torticollis, a condition caused by a tightening of one of the muscles in a baby’s neck, has recently become a more common issue in infants. It occurs in one in every 60 babies and can lead to scoliosis, vision problems, pain and delayed motor skills. The sternocleidomastoid, a muscle found on both sides of the neck allows babies to tilt and rotate their head. When this muscle becomes tight, it causes the baby to constantly tilt, or lean, his or her head to the right or left depending on which side has the affected muscle. Sometimes the baby’s neck rotation (turning to the right or left) will be affected and you will see that they keep their head turned to one side all the time.
What causes Torticollis?
The exact cause of torticollis is not known, but there are many theories. One theory is that when in the womb, because there is not much space, the babies necks are flexed to either one side or the other and then over time, that muscle tightens. Another theory is that since babies sleep on their back to prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), they keep their head rotated to one side or the other, and over time the muscle in the neck can get tight.
How do you know if your baby has Torticollis?
Babies with Torticollis usually have their head tilted to one side (the same side all the time) during sleeping and play times. They typically prefer to look in only one direction. Sometimes they can develop a flat spot on the back of their head because of always keeping their head in the same position.
What are some things you can do to prevent Torticollis?
Always follow your doctor’s recommendations regarding sleeping position, but when awake, provide your baby with lots of “tummy time.” Keep time in a bouncy seat or infant carrier to a minimum. If they tilt their head while in a bouncy seat or swing, roll up hand towels and prop on either side of their head to help keep it straight. When playing with your baby, use toys to make them look in either direction to stretch both sides of their neck.
What do you do if you think your baby has Torticollis?
Consult your child’s doctor. Torticollis is easily corrected with stretching and strengthening exercises prescribed by a physical therapist.
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