You’ve just given birth to a beautiful child. You’re so caught up in joy and awe that you can’t help but take tons of pictures of the little one. But as you scroll through your pictures you may notice a common trend between 1 to 12 months old–
No, they aren’t giving the camera their good side. Your baby may have torticollis.
Don’t panic. Torticollis is common and a result of muscle tightness and weakness on one side of the neck. Any diagnosis sounds scary, but caught early enough torticollis is an easy fix. As a Pediatric Doctor of Physical Therapy I frequently treat patients with this diagnosis. The key is proactive treatment. This article will teach you the signs and treatment of torticollis.
Torticollis occurs when the shoulder muscle, sternocleidomastoid, becomes tight. This can happen due to your baby’s position in the womb or from sleeping position. Twins and large babies are more likely to have Torticollis from the reduced womb space. Babies heads are heavy and tend to rotate to one side when they sleep on their backs. The sternocleidomastoid’s action is lateral flexion (tilting) to one side and rotation (turning) to the other side.
What can you do?
Rotate your child’s head in the opposite direction your child usually looks. Do this 15-20 second hold with light pressure every time you change your baby’s diaper (which let’s be real, is 10+ times per day). This improves range of motion and reminds the baby that there is another half of the world to see.
The other is called football carry. Face the baby facing out toward the world and turned on their side. Position them so the side of the neck the baby typically tilts is facing down. Put one hand on the side of their head and the other between their legs for support. Use your hand on the side of their head to lightly stretch the baby’s neck. This addresses the tilt component to the muscle tightness.
If you can’t visualize these stretches, I recommend an appointment with a Pediatric Doctor of Physical Therapy. You will see the stretches in person and applied to the specific direction of your child’s rotation and lateral flexion, as well as to learn other exercises for neck strengthening.
Feed your child to the direction they don’t like to look in order to facilitate active rotation. Adjust crib position so that your child has to turn their head to see what’s happening outside. Put toys on the opposite side of their head. Have family members stand on the side your child looks to least often when they interact with them. Encourage increased tummy time if your baby has a flat spot on the back of their head so they aren’t falling into that pattern of rotation when they’re on their back. Every adjustment helps!
If torticollis is left untreated, it can lead to a child favoring one arm during sitting and reaching activities, having one sided weakness, and having an altered crawling or walking pattern. Although it’s an easily treated and often mild condition, ignoring it is the worst thing you can do. Allow your child to see the world from the proper angle and prevent future complications – treat torticollis early!