What Causes Congenital Muscular Torticollis?

newborn baby sleeping. One of the common conditions that our pediatric physical therapists treat is torticollis, or tightness in one or more neck muscles that causes the head to turn and tilt to the side. The most common type is congenital muscular torticollis, which babies are born with, but which often isn’t apparent until they’re a few weeks or months old, according to Sarah Kappers, a physical therapy student on clinical rotation at Little Steps.

If your child is affected by congenital muscular torticollis (also called infant torticollis), you’re probably concerned about what caused it and how to fix it. Here are the answers to some of the questions you might have.

What causes torticollis?

Infant torticollis is relatively common, according to KidsHealth. A baby can develop this condition or be born with it because of unusual positioning in utero or because forceps or vacuum devices were used during delivery. Both of those circumstances put pressure on the sternocleidomastoid muscle (SCM) in the neck.

Torticollis, in general, can also affect older kids and adults, often as a result of sleeping in an awkward position, KidsHealth states.

How will I know if my baby has torticollis?

Typical infant torticollis symptoms include the following, according to Sarah and WebMD.

  • Head titled to one side with the chin pointed toward the opposite shoulder. The right side is usually the sore one in most babies.
  • Issues with breastfeeding on one side or a preference for just one side.
  • A soft lump in your child’s neck muscle on the affected side
  • Rolling in only one direction.
  • Trouble turning the head to one side.
  • Favoring one side during play.
  • Development of a flat spot on the head (positional plagiocephaly) from lying in one position too often.
  • Lack of response to visual or auditory stimulus on one side.

What should I do if I think my child has torticollis?

Contact your pediatrician to schedule an exam if you think your baby is affected by torticollis. It’s important to get the condition treated to avoid long-term problems like delays in walking and sitting, issues with head control, and trouble balancing, according to WebMD. Torticollis is also sometimes (but not usually) linked to infections, broken bones and other more serious medical conditions.

How is torticollis treated?

Neck stretching exercises can help. A pediatric physical therapist can also remedy the condition using these methods:

  • Handling techniques
  • Encouraging babies to turn their head both ways using the environment
  • Strengthening exercises

Most babies show improvement within six months of starting stretching exercises and other therapies, WebMD explains. Getting diagnosed early and following the treatment plan will help your child get better as soon as possible.

If you have any questions about congenital muscular torticollis, our pediatric physical therapists can assist you. Our team delivers comprehensive, compassionate care to improve the lives of children of all ages one step at a time. Get in touch with us today by calling 847-707-6744 or emailing info@littlestepspt.com.

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