Infant Torticollis: Everything You Need To Know

Infant torticollis is a condition where the baby’s head and neck are stuck in a tilted and rotated position. As a result, your baby may appear to be only looking in one direction. This can be alarming for a parent of a newborn. You might wonder if this is normal or if there is something wrong. We will look at the critical information and how it can affect your baby.

What Causes Infant Torticollis?

Torticollis is Latin for “twisted neck.” In an infant, the head seems to be in a tilted or rotated position. This is because your neck has a large, rope-like muscle that runs down both sides, stretching from behind the ears to the clavicle (collarbone) area. This muscle, known as the sternocleidomastoid (SCM), becomes tightened and shortened on one side due to prolonged or excessive pressure applied during or before birth.

This often happens due to the baby’s positioning in the womb or difficult birth. For example, the baby may have been cramped up in the uterus or lying in an unusual position. Infant torticollis may also occur due to birth injury from using forceps or a vacuum to remove the baby. In rarer cases, it may be caused by bone abnormalities in the neck and upper spine or an inherited disease that has damaged the nerves or muscles. When torticollis occurs from birth, it is called “congenital muscular torticollis.”

There is another form of the condition called “acquired torticollis.” This form occurs after birth due to any number of issues. One of the most prominent is some physical trauma.

Torticollis in Infants is Not Usually Life-threatening

It may be worrisome that your child has trouble turning their neck, but medical literature assures that most babies do not experience pain from the condition. Moreover, it usually improves and disappears with time and helpful exercises.

How Do I Know If My Baby Has Torticollis?

Signs of torticollis in babies generally include a preference or inclination for either the left or right side when looking or turning. Symptoms of infant torticollis include:

  • Tilting the head in one direction
  • Preferring to look over one shoulder rather than turning the head to follow you
  • Limited range of motion in the neck
  • Preference for breastfeeding on one side over the other
  • Small lump or knot in the muscle of the neck
  • A flattened head or face on one side (positional plagiocephaly)
  • Asymmetrical head and face

Some infants experience other musculoskeletal issues, such as developmental dysplasia of the hip, a problem with the formation of the hip joint, which causes the joint to come out of the socket.

Some of the symptoms of torticollis may not be immediately noticeable. For example, the baby’s constant titled head and neck may go undetected until the baby is 6-8 weeks old.

Treatment for Infant Torticollis

Doctors may recommend some neck stretching exercises to help your baby. The exercises will help tighten the loose muscle and loosen the tight one, thereby straightening their neck. They may also suggest physical therapy and check in on your baby’s progress every few weeks. Neck exercises are generally most effective if implemented between 2-6 months old.

If home exercises and physical therapy do not seem to be improving the torticollis, your child may be able to receive muscle release surgery. The procedure lengthens the sternocleidomastoid muscle and relieves the torticollis. Most infants with torticollis do not require surgery. However, if surgery is required, doctors typically wait until the child is of preschool age.

If your baby’s head has been misshapen due to the infant torticollis, the physician may advise a helmet to help correct the issue.

Torticollis in Infants Exercises

  • When it is time to feed, offer the bottle or breast in a way that encourages them to turn their head.
  • When putting your baby down to sleep or lay down, place them facing the wall. Babies like to look around the room, so they will try to turn away from the wall, stretching and strengthening the neck muscles.
  • Use toys and sounds to draw your baby’s attention in both directions during playtime.
  • Incorporate daily “tummy time” by placing your baby on their stomach for brief periods. This exercise helps strengthen the neck and shoulder muscles and prepares the baby to crawl.

Tummy Time Steps

Place the baby on your lap or chest, ensuring they are facing away from you. At that point, you can talk or sing to encourage them to turn towards you. The exercise should last for about 10-15 minutes. Once the baby lays his head down for 10-15 seconds, the exercise is over, and they need to rest.

If your child’s torticollis does not improve or develops with neck pain or fever, see a doctor immediately as it may be a sign of greater health risks.

Take Legal Action If Your Child’s Infant Torticollis Was Caused by Birth Injury

Infant torticollis is usually easily remedied and should not threaten your child’s life; however, the condition can significantly hinder your baby’s normal functioning and lead to other challenges. If you suspect your baby’s infant torticollis was caused by a birth injury sustained during prenatal care or delivery, you may have a malpractice case. A birth injury lawyer at Brown & Barron can help you recover compensation. Call for a free case evaluation.

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