Getting to Know Torticollis, Congenital Crooked Neck Conditions in Babies

The physical condition of this difficult-to-pronounce newborn baby sounds very scary, namely torticollis.

Derived from the Latin, torticollis means a crooked neck condition. But in reality, congenital torticollis in babies is not as scary as it sounds.

Getting to Know Torticollis,
Getting to Know Torticollis,

Babies born with congenital torticollis have limited mobility in their neck, which causes their head to tilt to one side.

But with treatment and stretching and strengthening exercises, most cases of congenital torticollis in babies will regain mobility within a few months.

Torticollis can be scary for parents. However, children cope very well, especially when torticollis is identified early and treated quickly.

Symptoms of Torticollis in Babies

If your baby's head always seems to be tilted to one side or your baby can't follow your face when moving from side to side, your baby may have trouble moving his neck.

If your baby has congenital torticollis, you may also notice a small, harmless lump on the side of his neck in the area of ​​the damaged SCM muscle.

But you don't have to worry, the lump will usually heal on its own before the baby is 2 years old.

Symptoms usually can only be seen when the baby is able to move his neck and head.

Launching Healthline, the symptoms of torticollis that have occurred since infancy will worsen and become more pronounced over time, including:

  • Head tilted to one side and chin slightly raised
  • Head difficult to shake or nod
  • Delays in the development of motor function
  • Hearing and vision impairment
  • Asymmetrical face shape
Many babies with congenital torticollis have an asymmetrical head shape , called plagiocephaly .

Some babies also have slightly asymmetrical facial features.

But with treatment, both plagiocephaly and facial asymmetry usually resolve.

In adults, the physical signs of torticollis are not much different from those in children. However, because torticollis has been around for a long time, some additional symptoms may appear, such as:
  1. Stiff neck muscles
  2. Neck pain
  3. Head tremor
  4. One side of the shoulder looks higher
  5. Chronic tension headaches

Causes of Torticollis in Babies

Quoted from the Pediatric Orthopedic Society of North America, it is estimated, 1 in 250-300 babies are born with or experience congenital torticollis in the first 3 months of life .

Although it looks uncomfortable, luckily this condition is not painful for the baby.

Congenital torticollis is most often caused by the muscles that stretch on either side of the neck or the sternocleidomastoid muscle (SCM) contracting and shortening.

This tightening can occur if the baby is in a narrow or unusual position in the womb such as a breech.

However, not all breech babies are born with the condition and it is not always clear why some babies are born with torticollis and others not.

The use of forceps during labor can also be a factor associated with torticollis.

In very rare cases, congenital torticollis can be caused by an underlying condition such as a spinal deformity , dwarfism, or impaired bone growth.

Types of Torticollis

Launching Johns Hopkins Medicine, there are several types of torticollis in infants, including:

1. Temporary Torticollis

This type of torticollis usually goes away after a day or two. This can be caused by:

  • swollen lymph nodes
  • ear infection
  • flu
  • injury to the head and neck that causes swelling

2. Fixed Torticollis

Permanent torticollis is also known as acute torticollis or permanent torticollis. Usually due to problems with muscle or bone structure.

3. Torticollis Muscle

This is the most common type of fixed torticollis, which is the result of scar tissue or strained muscles on one side of the neck.

4. Klippel-Feil . syndrome

This is a rare and congenital form of torticollis. This occurs when the bones in a baby's neck don't form properly, mainly because the two cervical vertebrae are fused together.

Children born with this condition may have difficulty with hearing and vision.

Diagnosis of Torticollis in Babies

The diagnosis of torticollis can usually be made from a physical examination, namely by finding rotation, flexion, extension, or left/right twisting of the neck.

In addition, torticollis can be accompanied by a mass in the neck with a soft consistency, painless when pressed, and limited neck range of motion.

Additional tests such as X-ray, CT scan of the neck, MRI, and ultrasound can also be done if necessary.

Treating Torticollis in Babies

Torticollis will often self-correct when treated early. Ideally, within the first month or two.

If you wait until your baby is 3 months old or older, medical treatment may take longer.

Usually, the doctor will explain how to position the baby, and do massages and stretches for the baby to do at home, or refer to physical therapy.

For stretching, you can massage your baby's neck and back muscles, then do light stretching exercises several times a day.

With gentle hand movements, this will bring the tissue back into a more relaxed position.

This allows the neck to straighten by restoring alignment and releasing tissue tightness.

Reporting from the Cleveland Clinic, repositioning is also necessary to help babies stretch on their own.

Taking baby tummy time will also help. Do tummy time several times a day while the baby is awake and do it gradually up to 20 minutes.

This will encourage the baby to turn the head from side to side, pushing the arms up and increasing muscle tone.

Doctors can teach you to train your baby to do tummy time independently, such as:

  • Get used to the baby looking in the opposite direction from the direction he usually does
  • Teach and familiarize babies to play with their hands and feet
  • Lay your baby on your tummy for at least 15 minutes, 4 times a day
If not treated properly, torticollis can cause complications such as: 

  • Flat head syndrome and facial deformity due to lack of sternomastoid muscle movement in children
  • Swelling of muscles due to constant tension
  • Nervous system symptoms due to pressure on the nerve roots if they occur in adults
Immediate treatment of congenital torticollis in babies so that your little one is not disturbed in his development.

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