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Torticollis: What a parent needs to know

By: Jenny Bridges, PT, DPT and Megan Zimmerman, PT, DPT

What if my baby holds their head tilted or only looks one way?

torticollis blog imageWhat is torticollis? You may have never even heard of it, but it’s when a baby to holds their head tilted or rotated to one side. Torticollis is a very common diagnosis that has increased significantly since the “Back to Sleep” campaign. There are many possible causes, but often there is tightness in the muscles on one side of the neck. Two main reasons torticollis may occur include: development in the womb (congenital) or a lack of position changes after birth (positional). Torticollis can affect how your baby learns to roll, sit, crawl, and walk. It can also impact fine motor skill and vision development.

Having a flat spot on one side of the back of the head and torticollis may go hand in hand. You may be concerned that your child has one or both of these conditions, but torticollis and flat spots are treatable, especially when caught early. Talk to your pediatrician if you notice any of the following in your infant:

  • Holds head tilted to one side
  • Sleeps and/or plays with head only turned to one side
  • Uses one hand more than the other
  • Difficulty turning head to breastfeed on one side
  • Flat spot on one side of the back of your baby’s head

It is best not to “wait and see” if your baby will improve with time. Generally, the longer they go without receiving treatment, the more time it takes to resolve. Infants are also more cooperative and responsive to treatment when started as young as possible. Though the internet can be helpful it is not a good idea to do any stretches before a medical professional evaluates your baby. Your pediatrician may recommend physical or occupational therapy.

My baby doesn’t show any signs, but how can I prevent this from happening?

  • Make sure your baby is turning their head to look in both directions while on their back, while sitting, and during tummy time.
  • Alternate which end of the crib/bassinet you place your baby’s head, while always on their back.
  • Take your baby out of their car seat when you are finished with the car ride.
  • Swings and other seats should not be used for an extended period of time, preferably less than 30 minutes.
  • Play with you baby on their tummy when they are awake and you are directly watching them.

American Academy of Pediatrics recommends placing your baby on their back for sleeping.

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