Torticollis in Babies
Around 1 in 250 babies will show symptoms of torticollis. Paediatric cranial osteopath and founder of SleepCurve, Philip Owen looks more closely at its causes and treatment.
It is a condition where the baby’s neck is noticeably tilted towards one side. It can develop before birth (known as ‘congenital torticollis’) or in the first few weeks. It is caused by a tightening of the muscles in the shoulder or neck.
What are the Symptoms of Torticollis?
Torticollis is easy to detect, simply by looking at your baby.
Place your baby is on his/back in the face upward position. Don’t turn your baby’s head but attract their attention to one side and then the other. Once the baby is over the age of one week old there should be enough strength in the neck muscles for your baby to turn their head.
The head should be able to look equally to the left and to the right, in other words the baby’s chin should be able to almost touch the left and right shoulders.
Feeding your baby is a good time to observe how your baby naturally moves and one of the first signs that mothers notice is that whilst breast feeding the baby will feed more easily to one side.
A baby who has a restricted rotation of the head and neck to the left side (in other words they can only move it to the right side) will have a preference to feed from the mother’s left breast and vice versa.
What Causes The Muscles to Tighten?
There is no simple answer to this, but may be related to the baby’s position in the womb or during delivery.
How Can Parents Help?
You should discuss treatment with a health professional such as a GP, physiotherapist or health visitor but the earlier it is corrected the better. A paediatric osteopath can also advise you.
The longer the baby has his/her head resting to one side the more chance of developing flat head syndrome. Once a baby’s skull has started to develop a flat spot, the harder it is for the baby to rotate the head naturally, making it more likely for the flat spot to develop and so on.
If, for some reason, you are unable to see an NHS paediatric physiotherapist and you are willing to pay for a private consultation then another option open to you is to consult a paediatric osteopath who ought to be able to remedy the condition with a few treatments.
What is the Treatment for Torticollis?
You will be shown simple exercises which will encourage your baby to turn his/her head in a way which stretches and works the muscles, leading to natural movement.
These exercises can be done during feeding and playtime and ‘tummy time’ and will cause your baby no distress.
A SleepCurve mattress does not replace the need for proper exercise, but can help as part of a treatment plan because it allows the baby to rotate his/her head freely while supporting the weight of the skull across a wide area of the neck and shoulders.