Torticollis in Infants: What Happens If Torticollis Is Not Treated?
Torticollis — also known as “wry neck” — is a condition in infants where one of the neck muscles becomes shortened on one side, causing the infant to tilt their head to one side as well as limit the infant’s ability to rotate or move their head.
There are two main types of torticollis.
Congenital Muscular Torticollis
In these cases, the infant is born with the condition and the causes can vary. Common causes for congenital muscular torticollis include:
- Womb positioning. Often seen with larger infants who may have been crowded within the womb environment; it can also occur as a result of breech birth.
- Birth trauma. Causes include breech birth or the use of forceps to assist at the birth.
- One or both of the pair of sternocleidomastoid (SCM) muscles suffer from abnormal development due to unidentifiable causes.
In cases of congenital muscular torticollis, the physician should also check for any other signs of musculoskeletal problems. These can be flaccid muscle tone, dysplasia in one or both hip joints, or lack of symmetry to the head or facial features. These may be signs of an underlying condition requiring genetic testing for a full diagnosis.
Acquired Muscular Torticollis
In these cases, the infant has a normal birth and the symptoms do not appear until several weeks later. This is when the child reaches the developmental stage of independently lifting and moving their head, generally 4-8 weeks of age. As the infant reaches this stage and begins to exhibit a chronic head tilt or spasms or attacks of sudden head tilting, several causes could be in play, including:
- A small tumor, the size of a marble or smaller, on one of the SCM muscles, known as a “pseudotumor” develops.
- The child suffered from a minor or major head or neck trauma.
- The child recently suffered from an infection or fever.
- The child suffers from reflux (GERD) that could severe enough to cause spasms in the neck (rare; known as Sandifer syndrome).
- The child has a vision or visual processing issue
What Happens if Torticollis Is Not Treated?
Once the cause and type of torticollis have been diagnosed by the infant’s pediatric healthcare team, treatment is vital to ensure the best possible outcome.
Left untreated, torticollis can create long-term health issues for the infant, including:
- Developmental delays. Several key movement milestones may be delayed, including rolling over, sitting up independently, crawling, standing, and walking.
- Difficulty eating. This includes challenges or inability to breastfeed, challenges in bottle feeding, and difficulty in mastering eating and swallowing early foods such as infant cereal or pureed baby food.
- Vision problems. Tracking equally with both eyes may be impacted; one eye may become more dominant due to the head tilt, causing weakening of the muscles of the other eye.
- Balance problems. As a result of vision problems as well as the weight of the head not being correctly centered and balanced by the SCM muscles, children can develop balance issues that put them at risk of falls.
The long-term outlook for infants diagnosed with torticollis is good. However, early intervention and regular physical therapy and/or chiropractic care must be obtained.
Treatment plans for diagnosed infants include both at-home exercises and activities as well as treatment by a physical therapist or pediatric chiropractor. Increased tummy time play for the infant is a common at-home exercise. This encourages stretching and using the neck muscles. Incentivize stretching and turning the neck by offering food such as the breast, a bottle, or spoon-fed food on the opposite side of the tilt. Using visually stimulating toys can also encourage eye-tracking.
It is important to seek the care of a pediatric chiropractor for parents looking to avoid the negative impact of untreated torticollis. Evaluation of their infant can offer peace of mind in determining the most effective course of individualized treatment.
Ozark Chiropractic Care is the leader in Baton Rouge Torticollis Treatment. Our chiropractors, Dr. Mark Aucoin, Dr. Vanessa Aucoin, and Dr. Gregory Nelson, and our professional care team understand the importance of timely treatment for torticollis. We will work with you and your child to create an intervention plan that is caring, compassionate, and consistent.
Contact us to schedule an evaluation – we look forward to partnering with you and your family to treat all of your chiropractic needs.