Torticollis 101

What does torticollis look like?

A child will tilt their ear towards the shoulder and will turn to the opposite direction.

A child with left torticollis will tilt their head to the left and prefer to look to the right.

A child with right torticollis will tilt their head to the right and prefer to look to the left.

How do I know if my little one needs physical therapy for torticollis?

My little one always looks to the right. My doctor says to “wait and see.”

OR

My doctor showed me how to just stretch his neck. Why does my baby need physical therapy?

These are both very common situations. I suggest trying the below tests and observations. Share what you find with your doctor.

Head is tilted right and turned left.


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Head is tilted right and turned left.

Tests and observations to do yourself to see if your little one has a body imbalance:

1. DAILY ACTIVITIES

A. It is harder to put one arm in the onesie compared to the other arm.
B. Baby likes to breastfeed on one side only or be held only on one side for bottle feeding.

2.FLEXIBLITY
A. Lie baby on his back. Bend both legs. One leg will go straight down and the other pops up.
B. Lie baby on his back. Hold onto his bottom and tilt it to either side. Try to make a C with his side. One side crunches more than the other.

3. MOVEMENT SKILLS
A. Baby rolls in one direction only or most of the time.
B. Baby reaches for toys on one side most or all of the time.
C. Baby sits leaning on one butt cheek more than the other.
D. Baby crawls with one leg dragging or scoots on their bottom instead of crawling.
E. Baby pulls to stand, but always leads with the same leg.
F. Baby cruises only in one direction along the couch.

Think of a plant. If the roots are not straight, then the plant will not grow straight out of the ground. To fix it, you would repot the plant, not stretch the flowers.

Babies are are all curled up and twisted into a tight space in utero. Some need a little help to undo that position after birth. The neck is the stem that we can see is not developing symmetrically. We need to be sure the roots, which are the trunk and pelvis, are providing a symmetric balanced base for the neck to develop.

A child’s head orientation will affect the development of motor skills as well as their sensory experiences as they are learning about the world around them. Physical therapy will address these overall needs of the child beyond the neck position.

My child screams when I do the stretches. What do I do???

Your child may already be in physical therapy or you are following your doctor’s directions for stretching little one’s neck.

Here is a different approach. Rather than stretch, shorten. Stretching is uncomfortable and there is a more baby-friendly and more effective option. Shortening tight areas promotes healing, circulation and relaxation. Those areas in turn relax within minutes. The response is rapid and with repetition the results last.

A whole body treatment approach.

A physical therapist with training in this approach can assist you in identifying where in the body your little one is tight and teach you how to do the same. They will also prioritize areas of tightness to teach you where to start. Learning your little ones body and patterns of restrictions puts you in the drivers seat. You will have a tool to check your own child’s body when therapy is over or in between sessions. You will know how to treat any tightness that develops as the child reaches a growth spurt or a new milestone without necessarily calling in the therapist.

Once areas of tightness are identified, now what? The therapist will teach you how to shorten those areas while holding baby, carrying baby and during play. Repeat these positions several times throughout the day, retest the areas of tightness over time because it can change, and the neck position will improve without touching the neck. Yes, without touching the neck. Address the core of the problem as your first priority.

To learn more about this approach to the assessment and treatment of torticollis or for assistance in finding a locally trained physical therapist please contact me at jredlich@gmail.com or the contact button above.

If your child is currently attending physical therapy and this approach is not being taken, please share this article, this one, or refer the therapist to www.totalmotionrelease.com.