Plagiocephaly and torticollis are two commonly occurring conditions in infants and young children. Plagiocephaly is characterized by flattening or deformity of an infant’s head shape. Torticollis is a form of a head tilt where the child’s head or neck is twisted or held in an abnormal way.
Tummy time should be introduced as soon as an infant has longer periods of alertness where he or she can be placed on their tummy while awake to prevent plagiocephaly. Babies slowly begin to lift their head and neck with some support from parents. Tummy time gives the back of their head a break from constant pressure of laying and sleeping on their backs. Tummy time should only be done under direct observation from parents. Infants should never be left unattended while on their bellies.
If head flattening does occur, it is often benign and reversible with active repositioning at home. Physical therapy may be recommended if repositioning is not effective enough once plagiocephaly occurs. In severe cases, helmet therapy is initiated by a craniofacial specialist to help correct the abnormal head shape.
Torticollis is often seen in conjunction with plagiocephaly. Some babies favor a side when they are sleeping or playing and the neck muscles begin to tighten in that particular direction. Placing toys or yourself on the opposite side forces them to look the other way and stretch out the neck muscles which can prevent a head tilt. They may need help moving their head and neck at first. Gentle neck stretches multiple times per day help loosen the tightening of the neck muscles if a head tilt starts to develop. Parents can perform these neck exercises with diaper changes so it’s an easy (and frequent!) reminder to do them. Similar to plagiocephaly, physical therapy may be recommended if torticollis is not responsive to at home exercises.
If you have any concerns about your baby’s head shape give us a call in the office.