Q&A With Dr Aliya: What Is Congenital Torticollis?

How do you know if your baby is suffering from Torticollis and what can you do?

Q. My infant’s head is always tilting to his right side and he has difficulty turning his head from one side to the other. Why is this happening? Is this painful for him? Is there anything else I can do to help him?

A. While you should always speak with your doctor first, this sounds like Torticollis, or wryneck. It literally means “twisted neck” in Latin and is a relatively common condition. Adults can suffer from it too—called Acquired Torticollis—often after an uncomfortable night’s sleep or a sudden neck movement. 

In infants, the condition is called Congenital Torticollis and is thought be a result of abnormal fetal position in utero (eg. breech position) or after childbirth involving the use of forceps or vacuum devices. Injury to the neck causes tightening and shortening of certain neck muscles, particularly the sternocleidomastoid muscle, which extends down the length of the neck on both sides. 

Parents may notice that their infant prefers a certain head position while in the car seat, sleeping or breastfeeding or that baby avoids turning his or her neck to one side. 

It can be very upsetting for mom and dad to see that their baby has a tilted head and that he or she has limited neck mobility. However, most babies don’t feel any pain as a result of Torticollis. And fortunately, the condition usually gets better with some simple position changes and stretching exercises that can be demonstrated by a specialized pediatric chiropractor or physiotherapist.

Here are a few things you can do to help:

  • When your baby wants to feed, offer the breast or bottle in a way that encourages your baby to turn away from their favoured side.
  • During play, draw your baby’s attention with toys or sounds to help him look in both directions.
  • Tummy time! Try lying your baby on your lap with his head turned away from you. Talk or sing to your baby and encourage him to turn and face you. Practice this exercise for 5-10 minutes.
  • Stretching exercises that include gently turning baby’s neck side to side. Be sure to consult a pediatric health care practitioner, such as your doctor, chiropractor or physical therapist to teach you how to perform these exercises safely.
  • Gently massaging your baby’s neck and upper back can help alleviate tightness.

Most babies with Torticollis get considerably better through position changes, stretches and treatment. It may take up to 6 months for the condition to resolve completely and in some cases it may take a year or longer. Therapy and exercises are most likely to work well if started early. 

If you find that your baby’s Torticollis is not improving, consult with your health care practitioner. 

Do you have a question for Dr. Aliya? Send an email to editor@babypost.com with Dr. Aliya in the subject line and check back every Thursday to see what Dr. Aliya is writing about each week!

A health practitioner, chiropractor and acupuncturist with a distinct integrative care approach, Aliya brings extensive experience in pre-natal and pediatric wellness to her clinical practice at Restore Integrative Health  in Toronto. She is also a runner, yoga instructor and new mother.

Visit her website at draliya.ca or follow her on Twitter @DrAliyaVisram or on Instagram @DrAliyaVisramDC

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