August 29, 2013

news-epic-torticollis-pediatric-physical-therapy-head-tiltWould it be correct to state that the number of pictures taken of your child during his first year of life would be difficult to count?

As a pediatric physical therapist, I have been lucky enough to see dozens of cute pictures over the years.  There are the smiling pictures, the eating and making a HUGE mess pictures, the adorable sleeping pictures, and the creative pictures with the perfect unplanned pose.

While all of these photos are priceless, they may also tell a story about your baby’s health.

If you notice that your baby always ‘strikes a pose’ with the head tilted in one direction or prefers the head being rotated solely to one side – or you notice general neck tightness that limits your baby’s range of motion at the neck – you should speak with your child’s health care provider about the possibility of your baby having torticollis.

Torticollis is a condition in which the muscles in the neck are shortened on one side, which causes your baby to have limited motion and to demonstrate a head tilt as well as a preference of rotating the head to one side.

There are several things that can cause torticollis, including your baby’s position in utero, the birthing process, or by constantly being in the same position in a device, such as a swing or car seat.  While this sounds very scary, torticollis can be treated effectively with a stretching and positioning program designed especially for your baby.

How do you get started if you have concerns?

First, visit with your child’s health care provider. She will likely perform a physical exam to assess the range of motion in your baby’s neck.  If a diagnosis is made, she may teach you exercises and positioning ideas to begin at home.  These activities can help loosen the muscles involved, promote midline head placement, and ease right and left motion.  In certain cases, your health care provider may refer you to a physical therapist for more intensive treatment.

A skilled physical therapist can work with you to ensure the exercises and positioning are done correctly and will monitor progress. Typical activities that a physical therapist would be working on in a session are stretching, strengthening, supervised tummy time, and general age appropriate developmental skills. Educating the family on these activities is important so that the exercises can be completed on a daily basis.  With dedicated performance of the home exercise program, torticollis can be remedied in an average of six to 12 months.

As you continue to take those precious baby pictures, take notice of any persistent head tilt or rotation that may be present.  The earlier torticollis is determined and your little one begins a daily exercise program, the better the outcome.

~ Amy Bavousett, PT Supervisor
Austin, Texas