Torticollis and Physical Therapy
Torticollis is an abnormal position of the head and neck. The word “torticollis” itself comes from two Latin root words, “tortus” and “collum,” that together mean “twisted neck.” This condition, sometimes called wryneck, is relatively common in children. In general, torticollis is classified as either congenital (present at birth) or acquired (occurring later in infancy or childhood). By far the most common type is congenital muscular torticollis (CMT). There are other possible causes for torticollis such as soft tissue or bony abnormalities, visual problems, or trauma. It is important to work with your doctor to find out the cause of your baby’s torticollis.
A child with Torticollis presents with his or her head tilted towards one side, with chin turned in the opposite direction. Torticollis in children causes a lateral flexion contracture of the cervical spine musculature, specifically the Sternocleidomastoid (SCM) muscle. Causes of CMT are abnormal positioning or lack of space in utero, multiple gestations, low amniotic fluid, and/or a traumatic birth process. Over time the SCM muscle gets shortened, developing contractures and requires intervention in order to lengthen the muscle and reverse any discrepancies in alignment or strength that resulted from this muscular imbalance.
Once a parent becomes concerned it is very important to act quickly so that the child can get the proper care and treatment. In general torticollis responds very well to Physical Therapy intervention, when part of a comprehensive treatment protocol that includes passive positioning, active stretching, therapeutic exercise, proper handling and environmental modifications where needed. Stretching exercises include turning the baby’s neck side to side so that the chin touches each shoulder, and gently tilting the head to bring the ear on the unaffected side down to the shoulder. These exercises must be done several times a day. Your physical therapist will teach you how to perform the exercises.
One of the key components to successful treatment of Torticollis is early identification and initiation of Physical Therapy at an early age!
Written By: Shandeen Curtis, LMT