Torticollis: Beyond Stretch

Torticollis is an asymmetrical posturing of the neck due to muscle tightness on one side. The SCM or sternocleidomastoid muscle is the major mover in this condition. In right torticollis, the right SCM acts to both sidebend the head to the right shoulder while rotating the face up to the other side. Babies may be born with this problem or quickly develop it after birth from positioning. Poor tolerance of tummy time or lack of tummy time (too long in the stroller or carseat) exacerbates this.

This misaligned posture affects the baby's developing ability to use their eyes and their understanding of where their midline is. 

CROSSING MIDLINE: This skill is required for coordination between both sides of the body, as well as development of cognitive skills and ultimately the ability to write fluidly across a page. On average, a three year old crosses the midline of his body using vision to guide him. By age five, most children should have no difficulties crossing the midlines of their bodies.

The visual system is powerful in guiding a baby’s first movements and an understanding of their body and where objects are in relation to their body. All future development is based on these models. Coordination, reading and writing may show problems years after the orthopedic issue has been resolved. Torticollis should be addressed as a multisensory problem as well as orthopedic, especially when discovered late.

Activities to do at home for Right Torticollis (tightening of muscles on the right side of the neck) :

Carrying your baby - Hold the baby with their back against your tummy, in a side lying position. The baby's ear should rest against your right forearm with your left arm supporting their lower half.  Get your right forearm between the child's ear and shoulder to help stretch the tight muscles. Place the left arm between the legs and hold onto the baby's right arm/shoulder to elicit a stretch.

 

Playing on side - Position your baby to play while lying on their right side. This allows gravity to do some of the work of stretching the neck and bringing the hands to the middle of the body. Bringing hands to the middle is an important step for feeding, hand-eye coordination, and other areas of your child's development.

 

If you think your baby has torticollis, treatment from an experienced physical therapist will help. 

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