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Torticollis and Plagiocephaly 

 Click here to download Torticollis and Plagiocephaly

Your baby's neck muscles and head shape

What is torticollis?

Torticollis happens when a muscle in the neck (sterno-cleido mastoid muscle) is shorter or weaker. This muscle is used to:

  • Bend the neck (bringing the ear toward the shoulder)
  • Turn the head toward the other shoulder

A baby with torticollis may:

  • Have a tight neck muscle on one side
  • have a weak neck muscle on the oppositre side
  • Prefer to move or look to one side

What is plagiocephaly?

This is a flattening across the back and side of a baby's head. This may cause: 

  • Changes to the face on the flat side of the head
  • One ear to shift forward

Head shapes: looking down on a baby's head

diagram showing a normal baby head compared to one with plagiocephaly
Illustration used with the permission of
The Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne, Australia

What should we do if we think our baby has plagiocephaly or torticollis?

Talk with your doctor right away. The earlier treatment begins, the better.

What causes torticollis and plagiocephaly?

Torticollis and plagiocehaly are fairly common. There are many possible causes, like:

  • Not enough time spent on the tummy
  • Position in the uterus before birth
  • Events during birth
  • Baby staying in one place or position for too long

Babies may have other problems that can make it easier for torticollis and plagiocephaly to happen, like:

  • Hip problems
  • Eye problems
  • Hearing problems
  • Delays with physical development
  • Bone problems
  • Other medical problems

What if physiotherapy doesn't help?

Physiotherapy is almost always all that is needed to fix torticollis and plagiocephaly. But if the problems can't be solved with physiotherapy, your child may need:

  • A neck brace
  • A special helmet to prevent further head changes
  • Surgery (this is quite rare)

Physiotherapy

After assessing your baby, our physiotherapists will teach you ways to stretch and strengthen your baby’s neck muscles so your baby’s neck moves correctly. When started early enough, this physiotherapy works very well to improve plagiocephaly and torticollis. We will share ways to:

  • picture of baby dollpicture of baby dollUse toys to get your baby to look and turn toward the difficult side
  • Play with your baby
  • Carry your baby
  • Stretch and strengthen neck muscles
  • Massage your baby

How can we get to see a physiotherapist?

To see a physiotherapist at CHEO, you’ll need a referral from your family doctor or pediatrician. Your doctor can mail the referral letter to:

Physiotherapy
Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario
401 Smyth Rd.
Ottawa, ON
K1H 8L1

The referral can also be faxed to us at: 613-738-4893

Questions?

CHEO Physiotherapy 613-737-7600 extension 2500

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