Torticollis in Babies

Therapist working with child

Torticollis is the name given to the condition when a baby has tightness on one side of their neck that leads to a head tilt to one side with a neck rotation to the opposite side. The reported incident rate of congenital muscular torticollis is 0.3-2% (1). Infants who have torticollis typically lie with their neck bent to one side and their face turned to the opposite side. They often have difficulty turning their head from one side to the other. This may lead to a flattening of the back or one side of the head. Infants with torticollis may also favor use of one hand over the other and have difficulty lifting their head during tummy time.

Torticollis causes may be congenital, with possible malposition of the baby’s neck in the womb, malformation of the neck muscles or bones, or the result of birth trauma. It may also be acquired after birth due to positioning when awake or sleeping. Torticollis is treated early on by a physical therapist that will work with the infant and family in treatment sessions on a weekly basis. The therapist will provide education on specific positioning, stretching and strengthening techniques to promote proper gross motor development. The child is typically treated in therapy for 6-12 weeks, depending on age and severity. The majority (>90%) of infants with torticollis achieve good to excellent outcomes with therapeutic treatment(2).

1. Cheng JC, Tang SP, Chen TM. Sternocleidomastoid pseudotumor and congenital muscular torticollis in infants: a prospective study of 510 cases. J Pediatr. 1999; 134(6):712-716.
2. Cheng, J.C.; Tang, S.P.; Chen,T.M.; Wong, M. W.; and Wong, E.M.: The clinical presentation and outcome of treatment of congenital muscular torticollis in infants- a study of 1,086 cases. J Pediatric Surg. 35(7): 1091-6, 2000, [C].