What Is Torticollis, and How Can Physical Therapy Help?

Have you noticed your baby having trouble turning their head or keeping it tilted to one side? They could be experiencing torticollis. My name is Ellen Stanfield and I’m a physical therapist at Building Futures. We have two locations, one in Ruston, Louisiana and one in Monroe, Louisiana. Today I’m going to be talking to you about what torticollis is, what causes it, and how physical therapists can treat it.

What Is Torticollis?

Torticollis is a condition that affects a muscle in your neck. When it gets tight, it’ll pull children’s heads into what we call a “side bend” and then rotate their body the opposite direction. It often happens because of in utero positioning or positioning after birth. It’s very common in multiples just because the space in the uterus gets cramped.

It’s also common after birth just due to positioning, especially if babies spend extended periods of time in what we call “containers” like bouncers, swings, and car seats. These containers just limit the range of motion in their neck.

Why Is it Important to Treat Torticollis Early?

If left untreated, torticollis can lead to certain conditions and other difficulties with gross motor skills. For instance, plagiocephaly happens when kids develop flatness on one side of their skull because they’re constantly rotated on one side due to the torticollis. This could potentially lead to the need for a helmet. Without treatment, it can change the shape of their skull, and you can start having malalignment of the orbital bone, the forehead, and the ears. This can even lead to vision problems as well.

We also see delayed gross motor skills, such as difficulty crawling, maintaining balance, and sitting. Children with torticollis have a hard time finding their midline because they’re always rotated in one direction. We do find that the earlier we start treating these kids, the better the outcomes and the shorter the duration of therapy. This is why early treatment is so important. If you do notice that your child has a rotation preference or that they have a little bit of a tilt early on, it’s better to just get them evaluated.

How Do Physical Therapists Treat Torticollis?

During therapy, we ask that the caregivers are intimately involved throughout the session. In fact, we welcome caregivers to come back during the treatment sessions so we can do as much hands-on with you as possible. We work on lots of strengthening, specifically for the neck muscles and the core. If a baby is tight on one side of their neck, we’re specifically going to strengthen in the opposite direction. With that, we’re also going to stretch the tight muscle and teach families how to do that safely and comfortably for the baby at home.

We also offer education regarding positioning. There are certain positions that you want to avoid, especially if children have plagiocephaly, and ways to help facilitate remolding the skull in that case. And we can give you tips on limiting times in containers to prevent torticollis and plagiocephaly.

Call Building Futures for Torticollis Treatment

If you have concerns that your child has either developed it or is at risk for torticollis, please don’t hesitate to contact our clinic and get a physical therapy evaluation.

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