Child & Family Development Child & Family Development

May 19, 2013

What in the world is Torticollis? How Does It Affect My Baby and Me?

Does your baby‚Äôs head seem to be tilted to one side? This may be a result of torticollis, also known as ‚Äútwisted neck.‚Äù This condition occurs in about 1 in 250 babies. Babies with torticollis have their head constantly tilted to one side and typically have their neck rotated to the other side. Most commonly, babies with torticollis will tilt their head to the right and rotate their neck left.  Congenital muscular torticollis can happen before or during childbirth. In the womb, a fetus may become cramped in the uterus. Abnormal positioning of the fetus, such as a breech position, can at times lead to this condition. This type of positioning puts the fetus‚Äôs neck muscle, the sternocleidomastoid in a shortened position. After birth, persistently asymmetrical positioning of their head and neck may also encourage the development of acquired torticollis. Either way, the shortened state of their neck muscles causes the muscle to tighten, making it rather difficult for your baby to turn their neck.

There are several warning signs for torticollis to be aware of:

¬∑        If your baby has limited neck movement, caused by muscle stiffness.

¬∑        If your baby has a small bump, on the muscle that runs from the center of the neck to behind the ear.

¬∑        If your baby constantly holds their head tilted and looks at you over one shoulder.

¬∑        If while breastfeeding, it is difficult for them to turn their head to feed on one side.

¬∑        If your baby‚Äôs head seems to be flattened or asymmetrical, on one side, due to constantly having their head turned.

Other things to be aware of:

Other disabilities can sometimes be associated with torticollis. Clinically, we find that babies who experience reflux will almost always have their head tilted to the left and only look up and right, to create more space in the esophagus. We also see that language challenges can be associated with babies who have their head tilted to the right and rotated to the left. It is highly likely that if your baby is diagnosed with a plagiocephaly (asymmetrical distortion of the shape of the skull) that your baby will have a torticollis. Klippel-Feil Syndrome is an orthopedic condition in which the cervical bones within the vertebrae are abnormally formed or fused together. This condition can cause congenital torticollis as well.

 It is imperative to understand what exactly is causing your baby‚Äôs neck problems due to the disabilities that can be associated with these conditions. About 10-20% of babies born with congenital muscular torticollis, due to abnormal fetal positioning, also have hip dysplasia. Hearing and kidney problems can be associated with Klippel-Feil Syndrome. Although very rare, genetics and underlying conditions such as, a tumor in the brain or spinal cord that has caused damage to muscles, can also cause congenital torticollis.

If you have any concerns or notice any of the above mentioned warning signs, a Physical Therapy evaluation at Child and Family Development can determine if your child can benefit from intervention.   


“Torticollis.” BabyCenter. BabyCenter, n.d. Web. 13 Mar. 2013.

“KidsHealth.” Infant Torticollis. The Nemours Foundation, n.d. Web. 13 Mar. 2013.