Torticollis and Your Baby

What is Torticollis?

Congenital Torticollis is a common condition in infants, in which one of the muscles in the neck is shortened. Infants born with torticollis may not show signs of the condition immediately. Most physicians think that torticollis is caused by either the trauma of birth, or crowding in the womb.

A child with torticollis will have limited mobility in the neck, causing him to hold his head to one side. In very young infants, you may notice that your baby only turns his head in one direction when lying on his back.

The shortened muscle can also be hard and stiff, causing what appears to be a lump in the baby's neck on the affected side. You may only notice this lump when your baby turns his head, and some parents do not notice it at all.

What exactly is the neck lump? The lump in your baby's neck is just a hard, shortened muscle. The lump itself is nothing to worry about, and it should go away on its own within a few months. You do need to have the torticollis treated, though.

How Do I Know My Baby Has Torticollis?

Only a physician can positively diagnose your baby, but these are the symptoms to look for:

  • A hard lump in the neck
  • Inability or unwillingness to turn the head to one side
  • Raised shoulder on one side (only in more severe cases)
  • Tendency to hold the head at an angle when looking forward
  • Constant turning of the head toward one armpit

Does my baby have torticollis?

How is Torticollis Treated?

 Your pediatrician can refer you to a physical therapist. The earlier you discover the condition, the better. Typical treatment during the first two years of life will include:

  • Stretching the muscle: A trained professional should show you how to perform exercises with your baby to gently stretch the shortened muscle in the neck. Stretches should be done gently, and typically are not painful for your baby, though he may become impatient with the process.
  • Occupational therapy: You should actively encourage your baby to turn his head in both directions, especially toward the side he does not prefer. These activities can include putting his favorite toys on that side, playing with him on that side, and positioning him differently in his bed.
  • Strengthening exercises: The affected side of your baby's head, neck, and shoulder may be weaker, and he may favor it. Strengthening exercises mostly involve encouraging your baby to use the affected arm and hand, and encouraging him to use that side of his body during "tummy time." The goal is to have equal strength and dexterity on both sides of the body.

If early treatment is not done, or is not successful, there are other methods of treatment that may be considered:

  • Botox Injections: Injections of botox in the muscle can help it to relax.
  • Surgical correction: An orthopaedic surgeon can correct the affected muscle.

What is the Prognosis?

 If treated early, your baby will likely have no life-long effects from this condition. Once the muscle improves, the condition is healed.

If your baby sleeps on one side of his head all the time, he may develop plagiocephaly: a condition where one side of the head is flattened. To prevent this, you should encourage your baby to lay on both sides of his head equally. Talk to your pediatrician if you become concerned about plagiocephaly.

Without proper treatment, your baby will have limited mobility in his head, neck, and shoulder, and may suffer nerve damage if the muscles compress the nerves in the area.

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