Torticollis in babies: what can you do about it?

You’ve probably woken up with a stiff neck. If you try to turn your head the other way, it’s painful. Babies can also suffer from this, this is called torticollis. This condition usually develops right after birth or within the first few weeks of life and can cause serious problems if nothing is done about it. How does torticollis develop and how do you know if your baby suffers from it? In this blog you can read more about torticollis in babies and what you can do about it. 

Torticollis is the medical word for a crooked and/or twisted position of the neck. ‘Torti’ means twisted and ‘collis’ means neck. Babies with torticollis often tilt their heads one way and their chins the other.

What is torticollis? 

Torticollis occurs in babies, children and adults. In this blog we talk about congenital torticollis in babies. A baby’s head is tilted or turned to one side. The misalignment is caused by a restriction of movement in the neck. This form of torticollis manifests itself immediately or within a few weeks after birth and is also called crooked neck. The neck muscles are connected to the spine, skull and collarbones. By tightening the neck muscle, the head is skewed. It regularly happens that the spine becomes unbalanced or the upper cervical vertebra is brought out of position. Fortunately, this can be solved well and safely with chiropractic. 

There are two types of torticollis: 

  • Acute torticollis 

This form of torticollis can occur with a wrong movement, after exposure of cold or with an infection / inflammation. In most cases, complaints decrease quickly.

  • Non-acute torticollis 

Non-acute torticollis develops just after birth, there is usually nothing to see about the baby. After a week, the neck muscle thickens. The baby can hardly or not keep the head upright. The condition is often discovered in the second or third month after birth. After a while, a muscle shortening occurs so that the head is crooked and the baby looks to one side. 

The consequences of torticollis 

Some babies with torticollis develop a small lump or bump in the neck. This can be compared to a ‘knot’ in a tense muscle. Flattening can also occur (plagiocephaly), because one side of the baby’s head is more stressed. Flattening of the head can lead to scoliosis, back pain, headaches and developmental delays. The limited range of motion affects milestones such as crawling and sitting upright. 

Missing these important milestones in many cases causes an imbalance in the muscles and poor motor coordination. Torticollis does not go away on its own. It is important that babies are helped as soon as possible. If in doubt, make an appointment. 

Note: torticollis is not the same as a preferred posture. A preferred position is the side on which the baby prefers to lie. In addition, the head can be turned the other way, with torticollis that is not possible.


Causes of torticollis 

There are multiple causes of torticollis, but often the condition has to do with an uncomfortable posture in the womb or difficult childbirth. Sometimes the baby’s head is roughly pulled or twisted. A caesarean section or birth with a vacuum pump also regularly leads to torticollis. The muscle on the side of the neck (sternocleidomastoideus muscle) tightens, causing the baby to have difficulty dressing and undressing, sleeping and feeding.

Some babies with torticollis also have hip dysplasia, which is caused by an unusual position in the womb or heavy labor. With hip dysplasia, the ratio between head and socket is disturbed. The socket is not deep enough, which allows the femoral head to shift and (partially) slide in and out of the socket. In other cases, the femoral head does not sit properly in the socket. Hip dysplasia occurs in about 2% of newborn babies and is easy to treat. 

Symptoms of torticollis 

If your baby suffers from torticollis, you will often notice this within a few weeks after birth. The first symptom is a thickening at the bottom of the neck muscle. This thickening is usually visible and palpable. Babies with torticollis do not always behave differently than babies without torticollis. How do you know if your baby has torticollis? The most common symptoms are restless sleep, a lot of crying, a difficult-to-move neck, thickened muscles and an uneven shoulder height.

Does it look like your baby has torticollis? Fortunately, this can be reversed, but only if babies are treated before their first year of life. So don’t wait too long! 

Treatment of torticollis with chiropractic 

If torticollis is treated on time, no further complaints arise. From the moment you see that your baby is tilting and / or twisting his head, it is smart to make an appointment. In an initial consultation, we go through the history, pregnancy and the birth story. Then we examine your baby in a gentle way and discuss a personal treatment plan.

The treatment of torticollis in babies is very safe. Our chiropractors use special techniques to bring the cervical vertebrae into the right position, so that the nervous system functions optimally again and the neck muscle relaxes. During a treatment, we immediately check the mobility, muscle tension, primitive reflexes and motor development of your baby. Any problems or malfunctions are corrected in time, this prevents complaints at a later age. Prevention is better than cure. 

A healthy and happy baby 

You naturally want the best for your newborn baby. A happy child who grows up without worries. We recommend that – even if there are no (visible) problems at first glance – your baby regularly checked by a chiropractor. For example, every 6 months or during important motor milestones.

Do you want to know more about torticollis, chiropractic in babies or during pregnancy? Make an appointment for an initial consultation. You do not need a referral from the doctor for this.

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