What Is Torticollis?

Torticollis is when the sternocleidomastoid muscle (SCM), a muscle in the neck, tightens which then causes the baby’s head to tilt to one side. Occasionally, as a result, this can cause your baby to favor one side of their body and lead to your baby developing a flat spot if they are lying in the same position for long periods of time.

Torticollis is classified as either congenital (present since birth) or acquired (occurring later in infancy or childhood, with congenital muscular torticollis being the most common. It is very important to identify torticollis early and be assessed and followed by a physiotherapist.

Symptoms Can Include:

  • Limited range of motion in the head and neck
  • The head tilts to one side while the chin tilts to the other
  • A small, pea-sized lump is sometimes found on the neck muscle
  • Flat head may also be present

What Causes Torticollis?

There are various reasons why the sternocleidomastoid muscle can become tight in your baby’s neck:

  • Positioning in the womb before birth
  • Abnormal development of the neck muscle
  • Trauma or damage to the muscle during birth 
  • May occur as a symptom of other underlying conditions 

How Can Physiotherapy Help?

The main goal of physiotherapy is to achieve an age-appropriate active and passive range of motion of the neck and to prevent contractures as well as develop symmetry of your baby’s face, head and neck. This can be achieved by:

  • Gentle stretching to SCM muscle to achieve a normal range of movement 
  • Gentle strengthening of neck and shoulder muscles to develop stability and achieve a neutral neck position and development of balance reactions 
  • Gentle massage to SCM muscle 
  • Monitoring of physical milestone development to prevent developmental delay which is commonly associated

Most children who attend physiotherapy will improve within a couple of months, with improved outcomes resulting if your baby attends in the first 6 months. 

Source: Gundrathi J, Cunha B, Mendez MD. Congenital Torticollis. [Updated 2022 Nov 14]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK549778/ 

lauren longeri physiotherapist resident miller health orillia
Written By: Lauren Longeri, PT Resident

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