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When a baby is born with a slight tilt to their head and/or favors one side over the other, they likely have what’s called torticollis. Torticollis is relatively common in newborns, perhaps because of the way they’re positioned inside the womb, but once it’s diagnosed correctly, your baby can begin stretching exercises to help correct the tilt or the rotation preference.
“For most babies living with torticollis, it can take between six months and a year to resolve,” explains Pediatric Physical Therapist Laura Sarisky, PT, DPT, PCS, C/NDT. “But, of course,” she says, “every child is different.”
Torticollis Signs and Symptoms
The word “torticollis” comes from two Latin words: tortus (meaning “twisted”) and collum (meaning “neck”). If your infant has torticollis, it’s more than likely they will act just as any other baby, except when it comes to tummy time or turning their head.
Torticollis can be noticeable immediately at birth, or it could take a few months to present. It usually looks like your baby has trouble turning their neck in one or both directions, as if the muscles are tight.
Speak to your child’s pediatrician if you notice any of these signs:
- Facial asymmetry
- Flat head
- Frustration when unable to turn a certain way
- Having trouble turning to eat on one side
- Tilting head in one direction
- Turning their entire upper trunk instead of just their head
“In as many as 90% of babies who have congenital muscular torticollis, we also see plagiocephaly,” explains Sarisky. Plagiocephaly occurs in some babies who favor one direction most of the time, causing a flat head to develop on one or both sides. The flat spots tend to go away as torticollis does, and both can be helped through physical therapy.
Pediatric Physical Therapy
AdventHealth Sports Med and Rehab locations across Central Florida can help your infant resolve torticollis and plagiocephaly through pediatric physical therapy.
According to the Neurological and Physical Abilitation Center (NAPA), 4 to 16% of babies are diagnosed with torticollis, but when treated early through stretching exercises, 80% of children recover completely. Some types of physical therapy exercise that Sarisky and the team at AdventHealth Sports Med and Rehab would try with your infant include:
Improving range of motion
Gentle, easy stretching to the side opposite the one your child favors. This stretch would be specifically designed to work for the level of torticollis and the individual neck. Stretches are modified by the therapist based on child’s age and progression.
Tummy time is an important strengthening exercise for all babies, but especially for babies with torticollis and flat spots. Your physical therapist would work with your child to try tummy time on a therapy ball, rocking to either side and front to back. “We use toys and mirrors to encourage children to look to their less preferred side” says Sarisky.
Children are encouraged to hold a side-lying position, taking them off their backs, and bringing their hands to the center of their body.
Two things can assist to speed up the recovery of torticollis: an early diagnosis and following the stretches/treatment plan suggested by a physical therapist. If you suspect your infant has torticollis, we’re here to help.
Pediatric Care at AdventHealth Sports Med and Rehab
The pediatric program at AdventHealth Sports Med and Rehab serves children from birth to 17 years of age. This family centered program focuses on the unique needs of each child, empowering parents with skills and strategies necessary to ensure success. To learn more about enrolling in physical therapy to help your child’s torticollis, click here.