Torticollis, also called wry neck, is a twisted neck that tips a child’s head to one side and turns the face in the other direction. It may look painful but usually isn’t.
In babies, torticollis is usually congenital – that is, something they’re born with. Congenital torticollis is a problem of a tight sternocleidomastoid muscle – the long muscle running up each side of the neck that connects the breastbone and collarbone to the skull. It can be a result of the baby’s head having been in the wrong position in the womb, or birth trauma, or some sort of injury to the muscles, nerves, or blood supply in the neck. Torticollis can also be genetic.
If it’s not clear where it came from, it’s called idiopathic torticollis.
About 1 in 250 babies is born with torticollis. Torticollis can also be associated with a hip malformation called hip dysplasia.
An unusual form of torticollis called Klippel-Feil syndrome is a genetic malformation of the neck bones that may also fuse some of the bones together and can also affect the hearing and kidneys. Treatment for Klippel-Feil is quite different from that for the more usual types of torticollis, so it’s important to get a good diagnosis of the underlying cause before starting any treatment.
How can I help my child with torticollis?
Your pediatrician will probably diagnose congenital torticollis early in your child’s life. He or she may want to X-ray your child’s neck to understand the underlying cause. If your pediatrician recommends physical therapy, it’s best to start that early in your child’s life as the treatment progresses more quickly the earlier it is started.
Here at CTS, we have lots of experience helping children with torticollis. Our physical therapists can gently stretch your child’s sternocleidomastoid muscle using various techniques. Because good treatment requires stretching that muscle several times a day, we will show you how to do the stretching exercises at home, and practice with you until you’re sure you’re comfortable doing them on your own.
We can also show you how to set up opportunities for your child to turn her head to the side it needs to go to – placing things she wants on that side of her body, for instance. Putting your child on her stomach while she’s awake will also give her a chance to strengthen the muscles in her neck.
If you think your child might have torticollis, please don’t hesitate to call us at 630-444-0077 to schedule a consultation with one of our physical therapists. They will be happy to assist you.