Today let’s talk about torticollis and plagiocephaly. What are these things?
What is Torticollis?
“Torticollis” is a condition in which the baby’s neck muscle is short on one side, which makes the baby’s head tilt to that side. Another term for this is “wry neck.”
Torticollis can affect many different areas of a baby’s development. If the baby’s neck is too tight on one side when they learn skills like rolling, sitting, and crawling, they will end up learning to do these skills incorrectly. They will find ways to roll, sit, and crawl that compensate for their short neck muscles. While finding ways to compensate does help the baby to learn these skills, learning these skills incorrectly affects other parts of the body. Often the baby will end up with hip and arm tightness as well, and then treatment will have to address the neck and the hip and arm issues.
Importance of Early Treatment
It’s always easier to learn a skill correctly first than to learn it incorrectly and have to re-learn it the right way! That’s why it’s so important to get the baby in for treatment as early as possible so that we can address the neck tightness and have your baby go on to learn to roll and crawl without compensating for her neck.
Speech and Feeding
Torticollis can also affect speech development. If a baby doesn’t have the proper trunk and head control, they might also have trouble getting the air that they need for speech production. Lack of trunk and head control can also affect feeding because these things can also affect the way the baby processes foods through their gastrointestinal tract. This can affect breastfeeding as well because the baby’s head might be turned in such a way that it makes nursing difficult.
Strangely, torticollis can also affect the baby’s vision as the baby might learn to adapt to the world seen at a tilt. Torticollis can affect fine motor skill development as well because it’s so difficult to gain fine motor skills when you don’t have good control of your trunk and limbs.
What is Plagiocephaly?
Torticollis is often associated with plagiocephaly. Plagiocephaly is also known as “oblique head.” This happens whenever your baby has a strong preference for sleeping on one particular side. Whichever side they tend to sleep on, that side of their head becomes flat. This can lead to a malformation of the skull, which in turn can lead to many problems as the baby grows. This can affect their speech or feeding development, or even their gross motor skills.
Does it seem strange that plagiocephaly might affect gross motor control? All gross motor control starts with head control. Without good head control, the baby cannot gain good trunk control. If the baby doesn’t have good trunk control, they can’t gain control of their limbs, and that can lead to more gross motor and even fine motor development issues.
Another problem you might see with plagiocephaly is that your baby might have some facial asymmetry. Part of their face may be flattened. This can affect their jaw alignment, which can lead to feeding issues. They may have trouble breastfeeding, or may not be able to open their jaw the appropriate amount to eat solid foods.
Conservative treatment is always recommended for both plagiocephaly and torticollis. The earlier you come in for treatment, the faster you will see results! We know all the things to look for when your baby arrives. We can assess how much their head shape differs from normal, and how much progress they make between the times that they are here. Sometimes we refer babies for extra services, which may include a special helmet to help make sure the head and skull form properly.
Your Next Step
If you have any questions about how your baby is developing, or whether you might need to come to see a physical therapist. We have a fantastic gross motor checklist on our Cutting Edge Pediatric Therapy website at https://cuttingedgepediatrictherapy.developmentchecklist.com You can use this checklist any time to make sure your baby is progressing normally.
If you have further questions it might be time to turn to one of your local physical therapists for help. If you do think you notice an abnormality, or if you have any concerns, reach out to your pediatrician at your regular checkups.
Remember, early intervention is the key to preventing any further problems! Feel free to reach out to us if you have any questions, or if you would like to schedule an assessment for your child.