Symptoms of Flat Head Syndrome
When your baby was only a few weeks old, you first noticed how he seemed to cock his head whenever he looked at you. When you watched him in other situations, you realised this was his customary posture. When you tried gently to move his head away from his shoulder, he cried as though you were causing him pain.
Looking back at your photo’s you notice that his head is always in the same position and he doesn’t seem to turn to the other side much. Here we discuss recognising the symptoms of Plagiocephaly.
Does this sound familiar? Your baby may suffer from what doctors call muscular torticollis or wryneck, a condition caused by spasms in the sternocleidomastoid muscle of the neck that cause the muscle on one side to contract. An infant or child with this condition appears to be tilting her head to one side while rotating his or her chin in the opposite direction. If you have witnessed any of these symptoms or suspect that your child may be affected by torticollis, it is advisable to seek medical help to confirm the diagnosis. Paediatricians estimate that up to 2 per cent of all infants may suffer from some degree of torticollis.
Sternocleidomastoid contracture is often the result of intrauterine positioning or a traumatic birth. When a baby is crowded so tightly into the uterus that he or she can’t move, contractures may develop and range of motion may be affected. Babies who are delivered with forceps, breach babies and multiples are all at higher risk of developing this condition. Torticollis is also rarely associated with infections and cervical abnormalities which your paediatrician will need to rule out before treatment can begin.
Untreated, torticollis can give rise to a host of problems in later life including facial and muscular asymmetry, visual disturbances, a delay in acquiring gross motor skills, and plagiocephaly or flat head syndrome, a persistent flat spot on your baby’s head.
While not every infant who shows signs and symptoms of plagiocephaly has problems with neck muscles, most infants with problematic neck muscles do go on to develop plagiocephaly because of their inability to move their heads. When your baby has flat head syndrome, you will notice that either the back or one side of her skull has sparser hair than the rest of his or her head, and that the underlying area appears to be flattened.
Flat head syndrome occurs when an infant spends too much time in one position. Infants’ heads are soft to facilitate the remarkable brain growth that takes place during the first two years of life. When one side of an infant’s head spends too much time resting against a flat surface, the skull can actually be moulded. Other causes of flat head syndrome include intrauterine positioning and spending too much time lying supine. When the Foundation for Sudden Infant Deaths (FSIDS)publicised guidelines to recommend that infants younger than one year old always be put to sleep on their backs, paediatricians saw a striking rise in plagiocephaly incidence.
The treatment for torticollis often involves physiotherapy. The therapist will work on exercises that gently stretch the sternocleidomastoid muscle to increase range of motion. Parents will be given a program of exercises that they can do with their baby at home.
Flat head syndrome can often be corrected by simply repositioning a baby’s head so that he or she is never lying on the flat spot. In severe cases, a custom-moulded helmet will improve the head towards a more normal and acceptable shape.