Our physical therapy team gets great satisfaction from helping infants diagnosed with torticollis or plagiocephaly.
Infants experience such rapid gross motor development in the first seven months of life and with just a few tips to new parents, there can be huge improvements in their overall development.
A diagnosis of torticollis means that there is a neck musculature imbalance, and the sternocleidomastoid muscle (SCM) is the muscle involved. Plagiocephaly is usually a secondary diagnosis to torticollis. It is caused by the infant resting heavily on one part of the head which leads to a flattening of the head in that area.
A helmet is usually prescribed to improve head shape, but many of the cases I have treated by conservative measures have improved head shape and a helmet is not necessary.
The SCM is the large neck muscle that runs from the mastoid process (close to the ear), all the way down to the sternum. Its function is to rotate and tilt the head. When the SCM is tight on one side it causes the head to tilt in that direction and rotate to the opposite direction. For example, if the right SCM is tight, the child’s head will tilt to the right and rotate to the left. Now, there are exceptions to every rule and sometimes a child’s head will tilt and rotate to the same side, but for the most part, torticollis follows the previously mentioned pattern.
The cause of the musculature imbalance could be related to how the child was positioned in the womb, positioning following birth during sleep or resting, and/or if the child is not getting the necessary amount of “tummy time.”
Most of the time, a parent or a pediatrician notice the child’s head is flat on one side or on the back or notice a slight tilt of the neck/head in photographs.
The treatment for torticollis is effective. Weekly physical therapy usually takes 6-12 weeks, depending on the severity. There’s also a home exercise program of daily stretching.
Want more info or to schedule an appointment?
Contact Leslie Cordero, DPT or another physical therapist at Child and Family Development in Charlotte.