What is torticollis?

Torticollis is a restriction of movement in the neck, which puts more strain on the skull on one side and therefore flattens it. This can already occur in the uterus or postnatally as a result of an imbalance of the muscles.

Torticollis is also known as skewed neck. There are two different forms of torticollis (also known as spasmodic torticollis of the neck): a non-acute form and an acute form

Causes of torticollis

Non-acute torticollis often develops just after birth and is usually detected before the third month after birth. The muscle that runs from the sternum and collarbone to the ear is shortened in non-acute torticollis. On that side of the neck there is often a thickening, babies will therefore continuously look at the other side. A difficult delivery can be a cause of congenital torticollis.

Some babies are born with torticollis. A shortened neck muscle causes the baby to turn the neck. When the neck muscles are stretched or tear – during a difficult or complicated delivery – it can cause scar tissue. As a result, the neck muscles tighten further, resulting in a crooked neck. The good news is that torticollis can be reversed, but only if babies are treated before they turn 1 year old. Babies with torticollis will not behave any differently than babies without torticollis, unless it involves activities involving turning, but they can have slower mile stone development as the lack of neck rotation and movement will impede their tummy time, rolling and thuis crawling.

A baby with torticollis

  • May tilt the head in one direction (this can be difficult to notice in very young babies)
  • Do you prefer to look over one shoulder instead of turning to follow you with his or her eyes while breastfeeding
  • Has difficulty breastfeeding on one side (or prefers one breast)
  • Gets frustrated when he/she can't turn his head completely

Some babies with torticollis develop a flat head (positional plagiocephaly) or may develop a small lump or bump in the neck, which is similar to a “knot” in a tense muscle. Both conditions often disappear as the torticollis gets better.

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