What Is Torticollis?

Published on 
November 9, 2016


Torticollis is a common congenital deformity, and current research suggests it affects up to 16 percent of infants. Congenital muscular torticollis is caused by a tightening of the sternocleidoid muscle in the neck and classically characterized by the infant’s head being tilted to one side with the chin rotated toward the opposite shoulder. 

Although torticollis is frequently diagnosed by a pediatrician or orthopaedist within the first few months of life, more often than not, parents are the ones to notice it first. You may ask yourself:

  • chla-torticollis.jpgIs my baby’s head always tilted to the same side in pictures?
  • Does my baby prefer to look in one direction?
  • Does my baby have difficulty nursing or taking a bottle on one side?
  • Does my baby have a flat spot on the back his or her head?
  • Does my baby prefer to swat at toys with only one hand?

What causes torticollis?

The cause of torticollis is not fully known at this time; however, medical professionals believe that it is most commonly caused by decreased space in the womb or trauma to the neck during childbirth. For these reasons, torticollis seems to be more common in first-born children, and in babies with difficult or labored deliveries.

I noticed my child’s head is tilted. Now what?

Research tells us that the younger your baby is diagnosed with torticollis, the shorter amount of time they will need in treatment. For this reason, it is best to bring your concerns to your pediatrician as soon as possible. The doctor will evaluate your baby and may refer you for a physical therapy evaluation.

Physical therapists often treat babies with torticollis. After a thorough evaluation, your physical therapist may provide stretches for you to do at home with your baby. Additionally, your therapist will teach you ways to position and carry your baby, and show you ways to play with your baby to help stretch and strengthen his or her neck.

Are there ways to prevent torticollis?

PLAY! Place toys on both sides of your baby while he or she is on the back or tummy. Encourage him or her to look to both directions. Help your baby swat at toys with each hand. Assist in clapping both hands and/or feet together while singing a song.  As babies get a little older, you can help them roll to either side to play with their toys.

TUMMY TIME! Supervised tummy time is encouraged at all ages. While babies are young, you may start by propping them on your chest. As they become older, you may encourage tummy time on the floor with a towel or small pillow under their chest for support. Gradually with practice, your baby will be able to support him or herself. Aim for bouts of tummy time to total at least one hour a day.

Both playing and tummy time encourage time out of carrier devices such as swings and bouncy chairs.  Increased time in these devices can predispose your baby to torticollis and/or plagiocephaly, or flat head syndrome. (LINK TO PLAGIOCEPHALY BLOG POST?)