Did you know that your child could be at risk for torticollis? According to Tabor’s Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary, torticollis is a deformity of the neck caused by shortened neck muscles, which then tilt the head to the affected side causing the chin to point to the other side. For example: if the right side is affected – the head will tilt to the right (right ear to right shoulder) and the chin will point toward the left. The most common muscle involved is the sternocleidomastoid (SCM).

Many parents, especially first-time parents, don’t realize that their child is having a problem. Often torticollis is mistaken for the normal “floppy” neck of a newborn. As the baby gets older, it will become more apparent. Generally, the “tilt” associated with torticollis is evident in the first week to 10 days of life.

Torticollis is a symptom and can be divided into congenital and acquired causes. Whatever the reason, the result is the same: limited neck mobility. Children who develop torticollis may experience neck pain and/or stiffness. Parents may think a complaint such as this may seem like a minor problem, but if left untreated, torticollis may lead to permanent decreased neck mobility, balance issues and deformities like flattening of the head and face. It’s important that your child have a thorough exam by a physician to rule out abnormalities of the neck or other developmental issues.

Once the cause of the neck tilt in a baby or the discomfort of an older child has been determined, treatment can begin. Physical therapy is a common choice for treatment of torticollis. It includes educating the caregiver, developing a stretching program and teaching proper positioning. If physical therapy treatment does not improve the child’s symptoms, then a follow up appointment with the child’s health care provider would be necessary. During that visit, other options for treating the torticollis would be discussed. Those may include: medication, botox injections or surgery.

As parents, remember to always pay attention if your child complains of neck pain and/or stiffness and then follow through.

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