How to Deal With Torticollis

image001Some of you may have experienced twisted neck before even as adults, when you have woken to only find that you have torticollis after an uncomfortable night. In babies or newborns, this condition occurs soon after a difficult birth or due to the positioning of the baby in the womb. When this happens to newborns, it is called congenital muscular torticollis or infant torticollis. It can be frustrating when you realize that your baby has that tilted head causing difficulty in turning. However, most babies will rarely experience pain with this condition. Fortunately, the torticollis usually gets better with just simple position change exercises or even stretching of the tightened neck muscles.

What Is Torticollis?

Torticollis simply means “twisted neck,” and if a baby has this condition, the head tilts to one side, while the chin turns to the other side. It is also referred to as wryneck and it is not usually painful. Congenital torticollis occurs when the baby or the infant is born with the condition; however, the condition can develop later and then it is called acquired torticollis. Sometimes with the acquired torticollis, the baby’s head will be tilted to the same side. It is important to note that only about 1 out of the 250 infants are born with torticollis, and around 10% to 20% of these babies develop hip dysplasia characterised by malformation of the hip joint.

What Are the Symptoms of Torticollis?

Normally, babies with torticollis will behave just like the normal babies; however, variation comes in when it comes to such activities which involve head turning. This may prove to be a difficult activity in these babies. A baby with this condition might:

  • Tilt the head usually on one side though this can’t be easily noticeable in young infants.
  • Prefer looking or gazing at you over the shoulder instead of normal full turning to follow you with their eyes.
  • Have problems with breast feeding and will prefer or stick to one breast on the side to which their head is tilted.
  • Struggle to turn towards you and may get frustrated if unable to do it completely.
  • In addition, some of the babies with this condition may develop a flat head or what is called positional plagiocephaly on either side due to lying in one direction for so long.
  • The babies may also develop a small neck bump or lump in a tense muscle, which may look like a knot. However, this condition eventually starts disappearing as the torticollis gets better.

The congenital torticollis is usually diagnosed during the first 2 months of baby’s life. In addition to the physical examination, the doctor may also carry out some x-rays on the neck to determine the kind of torticollis your baby might have. Other tests such as ultrasound of the hips and kidney may also be ordered depending on the doctor’s examination.

How to Deal With Torticollis

When you realize that your baby has congenital torticollis, you can use these simple exercises as well as ensuring that you contact the doctor regularly. They include:

  • Simple exercises such as stretching your newborn’s or baby’s tight muscles around the neck region can help. Your physical therapist or the doctor can show you how to do it safely.
  • Tell your baby to rotate their chin towards the side of the affected side. For instance, when you are feeding the baby, you can hold your baby in a way that will allow them to rotate the head or chin to the correct side.
  • Place the baby’s crib at a position where the baby will rotate to the correct position while viewing the room. For example, you can always position them facing the side of the wall. In this way, the baby will turn to look around the room thus stretching the muscles around the neck. Most importantly, remember to put your baby down on their back as this reduces the risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome).
  • When offering your baby food or something to drink, you can always do it on the side which is not favored by the baby.
  • Lastly, during play, you can always draw your baby’s attention to both directions using sounds or even toys.

Note: If the condition does not get better after a few months, visit the doctor to enquire if there are other associated problems that may be causing the defect. Sometimes the condition will require some surgery in order to straighten the muscles. The lump in the neck muscle automatically goes away on its own. If congenital torticollis is caused by the cervical spine abnormality, it can also be treated occasionally.

Here is a video to show how to treat torticollis: