What is Torticollis? Why should I seek PT to treat it? What should I be looking for?
Torticollis, or “wry neck” as it means in Latin, is a shortening or tightening of the musculature along one side of the neck resulting in a preference for a baby to look one way and can even cause a tilt to one side. Because of this positioning preference children will develop a flattening, called plagiocelphaly, that can create a misshapen appearance.
It is not only the physical appearance that is effected with Torticollis, gross motor milestones can be as well. Babies with Torticollis have a tendency to prefer one side over the other and this translates into their movement patterns as well. It is important to encourage symmetrical movement patterns early on, as well as reciprocal crawling, so that children develop equal strength on each side of their bodies.
Torticollis can be a result of positioning in utero, lack of space if there was low amniotic fluid levels, or if the baby was a twin (or one of multiples). It can also be caused by trauma to those muscles during the birthing process causing the baby to favor and guard that side of their neck. Torticollis can also be acquired during the first few months of life secondary to environmental factors that include positioning and feeding preferences of the parents.
Regardless of how an infant ends up with Torticollis, studies show that the sooner they are seen for Physical Therapy the quicker and more effective treatments are.
What will happen in Physical Therapy, what you can expect:
You and your child will be seen for a comprehensive Physical Therapy evaluation in which the therapist will discuss your pregnancy and baby’s birth history. Range of motion measurements of the neck will be taken, as well as an assessment of head shape and gross motor and reflex testing utilizing a standardized test. These baseline measurements help to track progress as your baby grows.
You will also be given several positioning ideas, stretching, strengthening, and age appropriate gross motor skills to work on in your home exercise program. You will work one-on-one with a therapist at each treatment to progress exercises and stretching.
Here are a few tips to try at home as well:
- Place your baby on his or her tummy at least 30 minutes a day while awake and supervised. This can be for a few minutes at a time, multiple times a day.
- Alternate arms when holding your baby or while feeding.
- Reduce the amount of time in infant carriers, swings or car seats as much as possible.
Talk to you doctor early on if you feel that your child may have Torticollis and request a referral for Physical Therapy.
– Kea Averill, PTA