Infant Torticollis

January 14, 2023
Janelle Thomas MSN, RN
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Even if it causes minimal or no symptoms, it is still hard to see your little one deal with infant torticollis. Fortunately, this is a highly manageable and treatable condition, especially when identified early. This informative guide will help you better understand infant torticollis, including the causes and treatment options, so you can make confident decisions for the health of your child.

What is infant torticollis?

Also called wryneck, infant torticollis is a condition where a problem with the neck muscles causes the head to twist and tilt at an odd angle. The term originates from the Latin words for neck (collum) and twist (tortus), so torticollis literally means twisted neck. This is a relatively common condition that can be present at birth or develop within the first six months of life.

There are two primary types of infant torticollis, congenital torticollis, which is present at birth, and acquired torticollis, which can occur due to injury or other factors. In most cases, torticollis is a harmless condition which causes little or no discomfort, but it can also be a sign of a more serious underlying health condition. This is why it is important to diagnose and treat torticollis as soon as it is recognized.

What causes torticollis in babies?

Infant torticollis, particularly congenital torticollis, is caused by the shortening of the two long muscles in the neck, called the sternocleidomastoid muscles, which attach the back of the head to the breastbone and collarbone. Congenital torticollis can develop due to the following causes:

  • Positioning in the womb
  • Thickening of the muscle tissue
  • Birth defects
  • Abnormal muscle development
  • Hematoma in the neck muscles

Acquired torticollis is more frequently related to muscle spasms that can be caused by a number of factors that occur in the early months of life. These include:

  • Viral and bacterial infections
  • Injury
  • Scar tissue
  • Reaction to medications
  • A form of arthritis in the neck called cervical spondylosis
  • Complications related to surgery
  • Gastroesophageal reflux (GERD)

In some cases, doctors may be unable to determine the underlying cause of infant torticollis.

Infant Torticollis Symptoms

For many children, there will be no symptoms of infant torticollis beyond visible tilting of the head. More severe cases can involve symptoms such as:

  • Limited range of motion in the neck and head
  • Tilts the head in one direction
  • Muscle stiffness or tightness
  • Uneven shoulders
  • Small lump in the neck muscles, approximately the size of a pea
  • Moderate to severe pain
  • Headaches
  • Some infants develop a flat head known as positional plagiocephaly on one or both sides from lying in one direction all the time

If torticollis was not identified at birth, parents should make an appointment with their child’s pediatrician to diagnose these symptoms and create a treatment plan.

How to Diagnose Torticollis in Babies

If a child appears to have signs of infant torticollis, doctors can perform the following steps to confirm the diagnosis and attempt to identify the underlying cause:

  • Review medical history
  • Ask questions about symptoms and behavior
  • Visually evaluate the degree of twisting and tilting
  • Perform a hands-on examination to look for swollen or stiff muscles
  • Order diagnostic imagery such as X-ray, computed tomography (CT) scan, or magnetic resonance imagery (MRI) to detect potential issues such as spinal misalignment or ligament damage that could be contributing

Once the condition has been diagnosed, families and doctors can work together to develop a treatment plan for infant torticollis.

How to Treat Torticollis in Infants

For most babies, the common form of treatment is a series of exercises and positional changes to help slowly adjust the neck muscles. These include:

  • Gently move your baby’s head to the opposite side several times a day and slowly increase the range of motion over time
  • Getting lots of tummy time, or laying your baby on their stomach for a brief period each day, to help strengthen neck and shoulder muscles
  • Laying your baby down with their head positioned to the other side for naptime and bedtime
  • Encouraging moving the head in the opposite direction during play and activity time by using toys and objects
  • Some doctors may suggest taking your child to a physical therapist

In more severe cases, your pediatrician may refer you to a specialist such as a physiatrist, neurologist, or orthopedic surgeon if initial exercises are not effective or there is a more serious underlying condition.

Caring for an Infant With Torticollis

Less severe cases of infant torticollis involve minimal care for the child beyond regularly performing exercises and followup appointments to monitor progress. If more serious treatment is needed, such as surgery, babies will generally require physical therapy and rehabilitation, medications, and nutritional assistance.

In many situations, families of children with infant torticollis benefit from the assistance and support of pediatric home health services. A qualified and compassionate home health professional can help with a wide variety of care needs, including helping with exercises and other therapy, providing nutritional support, administering medications, and accompanying your little one to appointments.

Pediatric home health can be like an extension of your family, helping your child thrive and receive the care and attention they need to successfully manage a diagnosis like infant torticollis.

Contact Care Options for Kids for Home Health Care in Florida

It can be hard to balance your time between work, home, and caring for a child. That’s why our team of skilled professionals at Care Options for Kids is here to help. We have been enforcing precautionary measures and following the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines for COVID-19, to ensure the safety and health of our clients and employees.

Our home health care services offer one on one care support in the comfort of your home. We refer loving and competent nurses to provide customized care for families — from a few hours a day to around-the-clock supervision. Contact us directly to speak with a home health care professional or request a free in-home assessment. Together we can determine the best plan of action to keep your loved ones happy and healthy.

If you or a loved one are considering Pediatric Home Health Care Services in Florida, contact the caring staff at Care Options for Kids. Call today at (888) 592-5855.