What is Torticollis?

Positional torticollis occurs when the muscles in baby’s neck become stiff or tight, which causes baby’s head to tilt to one side. These muscles run on both sides of the neck from the back of the ears to the collarbone. This stiffness can be attributed to a number of reasons including womb positioning, difficult, and post-birth positioning.

This condition sometimes affects a baby’s posture causing them to favor one side of their body. Here, we see baby favors their right side. If baby favors one side, there will be a crease on their neck or under their shoulder blade that’s deeper than the other side. Here, we see a deeper crease on the right side. Favoring one side can cause baby to spend too much time with their head placed on that side while on their back. This can potentially cause Positional Plagiocephaly, or “flat head” on that side, which can be treated with physical therapy and a cranial helmet.

What are Common Signs of Torticollis?

  • Tilt of head in one direction.
  • Baby prefers looking at you over one shoulder and can’t completely turn their head in the opposite direction.
  • When feeding, baby has trouble breastfeeding or bottle feeding on one side (or prefers one breast only).

How Can You Help Prevent Torticollis?

Preventative Measures:

  • When holding baby, alternate the sides of our body.
  • Limit the use of carriers/equipment.
  • Alternate the direction baby sleeps each night in their crib.
  • When feeding baby, offer the bottle or breast in a way that encourages baby to turn away from the favored side.
  • During play, draw baby’s attention with toys and sounds to make them turn in both directions.
  • Lots of Tummy Time.
  • When playing with baby, be sure to do the activity/game on both sides of baby so they turn their head.

What Activities Help Treat Torticollis?

When treating torticollis, the main goals are to reduce stiffness in the neck while decreasing the head tilt and the head turn preference.

If you suspect baby may have stiffness on one side of their neck, try these activities to help them stretch out and work those muscles!

  • Lean Back – Place baby over your chest with their head over one shoulder. Lean back slowly so baby is on an incline and has to gradually keep their head lifted up. Be sure to switch sides!
  • Tummy Time Tilt – When baby is on tummy, place your hands on their chest and slowly tilt baby from one side to the other. Baby will turn their head in the opposite direction of the tilt, strengthening both sides of their neck muscles.
  • Toy Tracks – Get baby’s favorite toy and bring it into their view. Once baby is focused on the toy, slowly move it from side to side. Holding the toy at chest level about 10-12 inches from baby gets the best visual, head, and neck response.
  • Righty/Lefty – Are you a righty or a lefty? Chances are you hold baby on the same side each time you pick them up. It may feel odd at first, but try switching arms! This allows baby to work on the muscles on the other side of their neck to look around.
  • Mirror on the Wall – Put up a child-safe activity mirror on a side of baby’s crib where they can see it. “Who’s the cutest baby of all? (Baby’s name)!” Tap the mirror so baby will glance at it. Be sure to place the mirror on alternate sides of the crib.
  • Side Chats – Lie baby down and talk to them from the left and right sides. Be sure to move slowly enough so baby can track your face from one side to the other.
  • Sleeping Direction – Change the direction baby lies while sleeping. One night place their head on the right side of the crib, then switch to the left for the next night! Repeat. Don’t forget to always place baby on their back to sleep.

Early diagnosis and treatment are key for overcoming torticollis. If you suspect your baby has torticollis, consult a healthcare professional.