Torticollis in infants is a common condition. In around 250 live births, at least one child is diagnosed with the condition. Torticollis is also referred to ‘wryneck’ or ‘twisted neck’. This is a condition wherein head of the infant is title on one side. The term is derived from Latin which literally means ‘twisted neck’. This condition is either congenital or acquired. Congenital Muscular Torticollis is a condition which is present at birth. This occurs mostly due to improper positioning of fetus in the womb or it may also occur due to traumatic and difficult delivery of the baby. In some cases the child may develop the condition after around three months. Such cases can be regarded as Acquired Torticollis.
The condition is relatively common and both the genders male as well as female are equally prone to the condition. It may seem upsetting for the parents to see their child unable to move its head. However, the condition does not cause pain in most cases. Fortunately the issue starts alleviating gradually with proper positioning technique and stretching exercises which can be performed at home. In some cases the child may also be diagnosed with developmental dysplasia associated with hip which is a condition often caused due to anomalous positioning in womb.
Symptoms of Torticollis in Infants
Torticollis in infant may be difficult to identify right away when the child is born but it may become obvious after few days. Usually the child’s doctor may detect the issue. There are some signs that may hint that the child is affected with wryneck. One of the obvious signs of the condition is tilted head only in one direction. You may not be able to detect this during initial few days of the child’s life. If the child is breastfeeding only on one side and it is difficult to feed him from the other side then it may indicate prevalence of torticollis. This may cause the child to prefer one side breast only.
If the child works hard to tilt the head and is unable to do it, it can be taken as a symptom of wryneck. If you notice that the child looks only at one side and does not turn the head on the other side then consult a doctor. Another symptom of the condition is flatness of head at the back. This condition is technically referred to as ‘Positional Plagiocephaly’. Such flatness of head may occur in one side or both side of the head (at the back). In some cases there may be a lump like occurrence or bump on the neck of the child. Wryneck is often characterized by shortened Sternocleidomastoid muscle, abbreviated as SCM muscle. These symptoms often alleviate with appropriate treatment.
Causes of Torticollis in babies
The exact factor that causes torticollis in infants is not known. However there are several hypotheses in medical industry to explain the occurrence of tilted neck in children. One of the highly accepted theories for Congenital Muscular Torticollis is inappropriate position of the fetus in the womb. This may also lead to obstruction of blood supply to essential parts of the fetus which may cause the condition. Another highly accorded hypothesis is traumatic or difficult birth; especially when the delivery causes injury to the SCM muscles.
Acquired torticollis in infants may occur if the baby spends too much time with head turned on one side. Baby may become prone to the condition if vacuum or forceps is used to deliver that baby. In rare cases congenital torticollis in babies may be due to abnormal neck bones (or cervical vertebrae). The vertebrae may be malformed or fused (stuck together) or both. This condition is technically referred to as Klippel- Feil syndrome. Another rare cause of the condition is tumor of brain or spinal cord which may cause damages to muscles and nervous system.
The best way to diagnose your baby for twisted neck is by consulting a doctor. Your doctor will physically examine the child in the clinic itself. He will try to determine the extent of range of motion of your baby’s head. Sometimes doctors suggest x-ray, MRI, etc, to confirm the prevalence of the condition. While examining the baby he may also look for other associated anomalies such as hip dysplasia etc. Your doctor may ask you question on breast feeding pattern of the baby. Babies above 6 months of age may also be recommended Ultrasound examination.
Treatment for Torticollis in infants
Treatment of torticollis mostly involves exercises. There are stretching exercises which are suggested by the doctor. You can perform these exercises at home. You may have to perform these exercises several times a day or as suggested by the doctor. The best considered technique against congenital torticollis is to engorge the child to turn the head on the other side.
While breastfeeding your child hold him/her in a position that would cause him to move the head to the right position. Try to break the habit of feeding on one side and encourage feeding on the other side. Usually the lump on the neck goes away gradually along with alleviation of the condition. However, if there is no improvement after few months, then consult your doctor as there are chances of any serious underlying issue. In severe causes torticollis in infant can be treated with surgical procedures to stretch and lengthen the affected muscles. However, in most cases stretching exercises are sufficient to treat the issue.