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Infant Torticollis

Infant Torticollis

Your baby is struggling to turn his/her head? His/her head is always bent or turned to the same side? You suspect a torticollis?
Do not wait to see your osteopath.

What is an infant torticollis?

Infant torticollis is common.
It is due to a muscle called the sternocleidomastoid muscle (SCM). This muscle runs from the back of your ear to your collar bone, on both side of the neck and allows the neck to tilt and rotate contralaterally to the side of contraction. When your baby is experiencing infant torticollis, it means one SCM on one side of the neck is tight and shortened.  Your baby will be always turning his head on one side.

There are 2 types of infant torticollis:

  • Congenital torticollis
  • Acquired torticollis

The first one is the most common form of paediatric torticollis. Baby may have been born with it or will develop the condition in the very first days or weeks of his/her life. It is sometimes very minor with a difference of rotation’s amplitude only in the last degrees. In this case, you will sometimes hear about ‘preferential rotation’ of the head.

The acquired torticollis appears after birth. It may be linked to other serious medical conditions.

Watch out!  A torticollis that has appeared spontaneously in an infant or toddler and is associated with fever must absolutely be referred to a doctor. Similarly, for a torticollis whose appeared a long time after birth or after trauma. However, in most cases, the origin of the torticollis remains benign.

Causes of torticollis

The most common cause of infant torticollis is a SCM shortened or tightened. Because of this condition the baby’s head is tilted to one side and his chin is pointed to the opposite shoulder. Sometimes we can even feel a soft lump on the SCM.

Many theories have been developed to explain the causes of the infant torticollis but the root cause of it is still uncertain. The fetal position in-utero but also the birth is probably involved.

Indeed, an abnormal fetal position or a baby cramped in the womb can cause extra pressure on baby’s head and cervical during the pregnancy. Without any treatment, these tensions will remain as a torticollis. The breech position is more often associated with a torticollis at birth. The use of forceps or vacuum during the delivery can also be involved.

Symptoms of torticollis

  • Asymmetry in your baby’s head: It is called ‘positional plagiocephaly’. It is a flat head on one side from lying in one position all the time.
  • Asymmetry in your baby’s face: because the body needs to keep his/her look horizontally, he/she will adapt by a facial asymmetry.
  • Difficulty breastfeeding on one side?
  • Limited range of motion turning his/her head and neck on one side.

When the infant is subject to cervical, cranial and shoulder tensions, the pelvis tends to move toward the side where the head is tilted to limit muscle tension in the neck. Therefore, the infant position body is ‘arched’. This mechanism of adaptation is explained by the biomechanical links that exist between the muscular, ligamentous and membranous elements (core link and fasciae).

Osteopathy to treat infant’s torticollis

The main goal of an osteopathic treatment is to reduce the restriction and tensions within the body causing by the different ‘trauma’ experienced by the newborn (in-utero, birth, intubation…).
After a very gentle and complete exam, the osteopath will give the best mobility to the baby’s body using non-invasive technique.
Most of the time the unbalance is not just in the cervical area but can also be in the pelvis, spine, abdomen, etc.… So, don’t worry if your osteopath is not just working on the cervical, it is totally normal. Always keep in mind that osteopathy is a holistic therapy.

What can you do at home to help with torticollis?

After an osteopathic treatment, you can stimulate the cervical mobility of your baby at home.

infant torticolis
  • Practice ‘tommy time’ as much as you can while baby is awake and supervised. It is a really important exercise. It helps strengthen neck and shoulder muscles get your baby ready for sitting and crawling.
  • When feeding your baby, offer the bottle or the breast from the side the baby does not normally like.
  • During play time, place all toys on the side he/she does not enjoy and encourage him/her to turn his/her head by making noise or light.
  • Carrying your child using different way (carrier, arms, wrap…).
  • You can sit your baby on your lap, his/her back facing you and showing him/her an object. His/her attention on the object will allow you to turn his/her head without manually forcing by moving your body.
  • Minimize time baby spends in containers such as car seats, swings, and bouncers. They constrict the infant’s movements and cause prolonged pressure on the back of the head.
  • During sleep time always place your baby on his/her back. Alternate which is the head of the crib each night to encourage the baby to turn the head to each side to see out of the crib.

Your osteopath can also give you some gentle stretch.

In case of a major torticollis, a physiotherapy treatment is a good combination with osteopathy.

If you are experiencing back pain due to a bad posture feel free to call us (416) 931-7686 or to request an appointment online.