Tips for Parents and Caregivers to Prevent Torticollis

Torticollis Prevention“Torticollis” is not a fancy name for a turtle or a pastry!  It is actually an acute, congenital or acquired condition affecting the muscles in a person’s neck. Torticollis is characterized by a tilt of the head to one side with the chin turned to the opposite side. Adults may suffer from the condition secondary to a muscle spasm, but it most often appears among children as an acquired condition.
Torticollis occurs when the sternocleidomastoid (SCM) muscle becomes shortened, and it is often seen in babies who are positioned in the same manner for prolonged periods of time over the first six months of life, when they are achieving head control.  If infants do not spend enough time on their bellies or are always held with their head turned to one side, they may end up with a tight muscle on the side where their head is always turned. 

Here are some recommendations from the Good Shepherd Physical Therapy staff to prevent torticollis:

  • Make sure your baby spends time on her belly, with adult supervision, for at least half the time she is awake.  This will help your baby properly develop the muscles that lift the head.  
  • Between birth and three months, vary the position in which you hold your child. While some babies prefer to lie on one side, make sure you allow your child to spend time in each arm. 
  •  When your baby begins to be more aware of his surroundings around 3 to 4 months of age, while he is on his belly or back, encourage him to move his head back and forth by engaging in play with either keys or rattles approximately 8 to 10 inches away from his face (so he can focus on the object). Work on scanning from left to right. 

If you notice that your child holds his or her head tilted to one side and/or rotated to the other, or if he or she appears to be unable to turn his head to one side easily, it is important to have the infant evaluated by a medical professional. Therapy will involve exercises to achieve a stretch to the tightened (non-preferred) side.

It is important to address torticollis early since the condition can lead to facial asymmetries, a flattened head and visual field/gaze deficits. If your child shows signs of this condition, be sure to contact your pediatrician to receive a referral to a physical therapist for evaluation. The staff of Good Shepherd’s Pediatrics Program can help by providing expert evaluation and outpatient therapy to resolve this condition.

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