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Infant Torticollis: Everything You Need to Know

The last thing any parent wants to hear when their baby is born is that there is a medical or health issue. Every parent hopes for the best, and that their infant is in perfect health. Unfortunately, that is not always the case, and sometimes, babies can be born with a birth injury or health issue.

newborn infant

For those whose child has been born with infant torticollis, it can be a rather confusing and scary time. It’s not a health issue that is often discussed or brought up, despite how common it is, so it’s not unusual for the parents to have never heard of it before. As a parent, the very best solution is for you to learn as much as possible about the diagnosis and treatment so that you can do everything possible for your little one.

What Exactly Is Infant Torticollis?

The word "torticollis" is actually a Latin word and it means "twisted neck". Therefore, infant torticollis means the newborn has a twisted neck when born. The good news is that infants don't typically have pain that is associated with torticollis, and as mentioned, it is pretty common in both girls and boys. This condition is also called Loxia or wry neck. If your baby has it, their neck will look twisted. The result is that their chin points upwards and their head will be tipped to one side.

It should be noted that even though it can be present at birth, in some cases it can take up to three months in order to fully display itself. So, even if your child seemed okay when they were born and you start to notice symptoms a few weeks later, it could still point to infant torticolli

What Causes Infant Torticollis and Is It Preventable?

When it comes to causes of infant torticollis, there are actually a number of things that can cause it. Some of these are preventable, while others aren't. Causes include:

  • A birth trauma caused by forceps or vacuum extraction
  • The baby suffers from spine misalignment while still in the wom
  • Being in the breech position when born.

As well, it can present itself later on in infancy when caused by:

  • Tumors
  • Grisel's Syndrome
  • Tonsillitis
  • A fall from a high elevation
  • Too much time spent in a bouncer, stroller, car seat, or even lying down

To take it even further, infant torticollis can also be due to genes.

What Are the Most Common Symptoms?

There are a few signs that parents should be aware of and watch out for that may indicate that their child has infant torticollis. These symptoms include:

  • The most obvious sign is that they tilt their head in one direction (keep in mind that in a newborn, this can be hard to detect)
  • They have to work harder to turn their head to one side and are unable to do it
  • They may have trouble breastfeeding on the affected side
  • They look at you over a shoulder rather than turning their head to follow you as you move
  • Head tremors
  • They exhibit some degree of neck pain
  • Swelling of the neck muscle
  • Their chin points upwards at an awkward angle

How Is Infant Torticollis Diagnosed?

Diagnosis is obviously key to move ahead with the proper course of treatment. It is best that parents take their baby to be seen immediately if they show any of the above mentioned symptoms. A doctor will need to do a full physical exam in order to diagnosis the child. This exam will include watching how far the baby is able to turn their head

There may be additional tests done as well, such as an MRI of the baby's brain, a CT scan looking at the child's neck, and an EMG so the muscles that are affected can be identified

What Treatment is Available?

Treatment varies on the baby's age and severity of the condition. Common treatment options include medication, neck braces, massage therapy, stretching exercises, and additional tummy time to increase the strength in their shoulder and neck muscles.

The good news is that with proper treatment, the infant will usually recover over a span of six months to a year or more.

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