What Is Torticollis?

Torticollis is a condition that causes the head to twist to one side as a result of involuntary muscle contractions in the neck. When infants have it, it’s known as congenital torticollis. Generally, the infant’s chin will pull toward the shoulder; however, other symptoms may include a limited range of head motion, headache, and neck pain. But, in order to fully answer the question “What is torticollis?” it’s important to look at the causes and treatments.

How often does torticollis occur?

There are usually fewer than 200,000 reported cases per year, and the condition most often affects infants under 2-years-old. In fact, infants under 2 years old suffer from this condition twice as often than any other age group.

What causes the disorder?

Some research indicates it can be hereditary. Babies who show symptoms shortly after birth may have been in an awkward posture while in the womb, however. The culprit responsible for torticollis appears to be sternocleidomastoid (known as the SCM muscle). In the human body, there are two SCM muscles that extend from the sternum/clavicle to the temporal bone. These muscles receive blood supplies from four different arteries. Functional issues in these blood and nerve supplies are believed to be the triggers that can lead to this condition.

How is torticollis treated?

Although the awkward appearance of torticollis may frighten parents, there are several treatment options currently available. It’s critical that your baby be examined by your physician to confirm the diagnosis for torticollis, because failure to treat it can lead to other issues with your infant, such as delays in mobility, less control walking, problems crawling, a tendency to favor sensory organs on one side of the body, and problems feeding. Here are the most common treatments for infants with torticollis:

Microcurrent therapy, which uses mild shock currents to modify the muscle
• Physical therapy
• Infant massage
• Surgery; in extreme cases, it may be required to extend the SCM muscle

Should you worry?

Treatment of congenital torticollis is successful 85 to 90 percent of the time. Many cases even go away on their own without treatment, but it’s still best to seek the advice of a medical professional if you suspect that your baby has torticollis.

Torticollis can seem frightening, but it’s highly treatable. Contact your pediatrician if you notice signs of torticollis; the sooner you address the issue, the easier it will be to treat.

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