Does your baby only look to one side or have a head tilt? This may be a condition called Torticollis.
Torticollis (also known as wry neck) is a condition in which the head becomes persistently turned to one side. In infants this could be due to positioning in the womb or prolonged positioning shortly after birth with the head always turned to one side. Torticollis could be related to tight musculature which is treatable with gentle positioning and stretching or it could be due to cervical spine malformation which would require more invasive treatment which would be determined by an orthopedic doctor. If left untreated, torticollis can result in cervical spine abnormalities, head shape changes, vision issues and delays in gross motor milestones. The earlier intervention begins for torticollis the better the chance for full resolution without negative side effects.
Intervention often begins with a home program provided by the child’s pediatrician or physical therapist. These exercises are designed based on the child’s specific form of torticollis and need to be performed regularly to be effective. Outside of home programming, stretching and handling techniques performed by a trained physical therapist will also help advance the child. Oftentimes parents will also seek assistance from a chiropractor. A chiropractor may take a slightly different approach to treatment including performing joint manipulations of the spine to address subluxations. This type of treatment can be effective in addition to stretching and soft tissue management and there is often a large overlap between what care a chiropractor and a physical therapist can provide. It is important to note that treatment by a physical therapist, chiropractor, or both will not be effective if carryover at home through positioning, adaptation of environment, and home exercises is not performed as prescribed by your treating professional.
If the child has already started to show changes in head shape (often a flattening to the back of one side of the head), further intervention through a cranial orthosis (helmet) may be recommended. If the child has alignment issues that persist despite consistent treatment or if the physical therapist feels there are spinal abnormalities, then X Rays may be recommended to rule out structural changes that will not change with simple stretching, positioning, or joint manipulation and may require more invasive techniques.
The key to success in torticollis is getting intervention as soon as possible. This can be through a physical therapist, but all options require consistent carryover of treatment at home. The earlier treatment begins, the lower the chance for compounding issues. It is important that the child be seen by a professional that can feel the child’s neck and determine if there are any red flags that may require further investigation. If you notice your infant likes to turn their head only one way, is tilted to the side all of the time, or has red creases in the skin folds of the neck, then it is time for them to be evaluated for treatment due to possible torticollis.
To schedule a physical therapy evaluation with TEAM 4 Kids, give us a call at 1-800-376-3440.
Steve Sargol PT, DPT and Alyssa Rosdahl PTA
In the video below, PT Steve and PTA Alyssa explain how we help treat babies with torticollis through Physical Therapy. They demonstrate a few simple stretches parents can implement at home.