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Torticollis and Plagiocephaly: Are they related?

What is Torticollis?

Torticollis is a condition involving tightening of the neck muscles, which causes infants to favor looking to one side. The most common form of torticollis is congenital muscular torticollis, where a newborn is born with the condition. In rare instances, babies can develop the condition after birth, which is referred to as acquired torticollis.

What Causes Torticollis?

The sternocleidomastoid, or SCM, is a long muscle that runs down the side of the neck from the back of the ear to the collarbone. When a baby has torticollis, the usually long muscle is shorter on one side. Torticollis is often caused by abnormal position in utero, birth-related injuries, bone problems in the neck, or in rarer cases due to an inherited disorder of the nervous system or muscle.

Is there a relationship between Torticollis and Plagiocephaly?

Babies with torticollis are at an increased risk of plagiocephaly, or baby flat head syndrome. The side of the neck with tightening makes it uncomfortable for baby to turn their head in one direction. Therefore, they will show a significant preference to turn their head to the side without the tight muscle.

This leads to an increase in the amount of time they spend laying on the more comfortable side. As a baby spends more time laying on the dominant side, the likelihood of head flattening increases. While not all babies with torticollis will develop plagiocephaly, many do.

How to treat Torticollis?

Treating torticollis involves a series of neck and muscle stretches that parents can do at home. In more severe cases, it might be necessary to work with a physical therapist to stretch the muscles and make the baby more comfortable. In more serious cases of torticollis, medical or surgical intervention may be necessary to relieve the muscle.

If the baby also has plagiocephaly, it might be necessary for a cranial remolding helmet.

While torticollis can cause some mild discomfort for a baby, generally the treatment is fairly easy and quick. The earlier treatment is begun, the better. If you have noticed your baby prefers to look to one side or lay facing the same direction, it might be time to consult with their pediatrician.

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