Dr. Nicole Losse, Director of Physical Therapy at Shandy Clinic, shares expert insight on these conditions and how pediatric physical therapy services can help
Torticollis and Plagiocephaly is quite common in infants. In fact, roughly 16% of infants receive a diagnosis of Torticollis, and 90% of those diagnosed are also diagnosed with Plagiocephaly.
While receiving these diagnoses from your pediatrician can at first be worrisome, there’s good news! When addressed early, both Torticollis and Plagiocephaly can be treated with physical therapy and without long-lasting effects.
What is Torticollis and Plagiocephaly?
Torticollis is the shortening or tightening of the muscles of the neck which leads to an infant looking only one direction and/or tilting their head.
Plagiocephaly is a change in the skull shape from remaining in a sustained positioning either in utero or after birth and is often accompanied by Torticollis. It presents as a flattening of one side of the skull and can lead to facial asymmetries and displacement of the ear.
How are Torticollis and Plagiocephaly Treated?
Torticollis is treated using physical therapy services. This takes place in partnership with parents or caregivers by stretching and strengthening the neck muscles and surrounding areas. A pediatric physical therapy expert like Shandy Clinic develops a treatment program based on the child’s individual needs. Some example exercises might include stretching the infant’s neck into rotation and side bending to the non-preferred side to correct head tilt and preference for rotating head one direction. Other exercises include strengthening the neck muscles on the opposite side of the tightness, improving core strength through tummy time and positioning on unstable surfaces, and ensuring gross motor skill development occurs symmetrically on each side through hands-on facilitation with the infant.
Left untreated, Torticollis can lead to movement asymmetries like dragging a leg when crawling, dragging a foot when walking, or rolling only one direction, as well as worsening Plagiocephaly. Physical therapy duration is usually dependent on the child’s age, severity of the Torticollis, and how often parents are performing stretching and exercises at home, though common treatment programs range from 4-6 months.
Plagiocephaly can be treated with re-positioning techniques such as placing the infant on the opposite side of the flattening, increasing tummy time, and spending time off the back of the head during awake hours. However, depending on severity of Plagiocephaly and child’s age, a cranial remodeling helmet may be required.
What to do if you have concerns
The bottom line? Early intervention is key to ensuring a complete remediation of the issue!
If you notice your infant preferring to look one direction or notice a flattening of their head, complete the ‘Contact Us’ form to the right or talk with your pediatrician for a physical therapy referral (Shandy Clinic can request a referral on your behalf).
Our Care Coordination Team prioritizes Torticollis and Plagiocephaly evaluations to ensure your infant gets in for an evaluation within five business days.