Many babies who have been diagnosed with plagiocephaly (Flat Head Syndrome) also have torticollis, a condition characterised by the head turning to one side due to a shortened neck muscle. However, the relationship between plagiocephaly and torticollis is slightly unusual as causality can go in either direction. In other words, sometimes plagiocephaly causes torticollis and sometimes it’s the other way round.
How are Plagiocephaly and Torticollis Related?
The most common cause of plagiocephaly is the fact that babies spend so much time in the same position while asleep. As the bones in their skull are still fairly soft, they can easily be moulded over time to accommodate this particular position.
A true torticollis is the result of a small knot in the muscle fibres of one of the neck muscles, the strenocleido mastoid muscle. This small knot of muscle fibres has a scary name, a sterncleido mastoid tumour, but it only means that the doctor can feel a lump of knotty tissues which can be eased out with stretches and manipulation. Babies with the condition have limitation of the neck movement from left to right, which further contributes to the tendency to keep the head turned to one side. The medical term for this reduction in neck movement is called torticollis. Many babies born with torticollis can therefore develop plagiocephaly as a result of this condition.
On the other hand, babies with severe plagiocephaly often require extra energy to turn the head to the side to which they are less accustomed. In order to avoid discomfort, they keep the head turned to the same side as much as possible, resulting in a functional shortening of the muscles on one side of the neck. This is known as functional torticollis as there is no lump of knotty fibres in the muscle.
Treatment for Torticollis and Plagiocephaly
In the early stages, the best treatment for torticollis is to gradually encourage an increase in neck movement. Regularly ease the head gently from one side to the other, only going as far as is comfortable for your baby. To help, make this into a game and you can encourage your baby to turn to the affected side by placing toys on that side or playing peep from that side. You can also encourage movement by feeding from alternating sides.
This will help you loosen and extend the tightened muscle and will result in an increase in neck mobility. You will also find that physiotherapy or osteopathy from a paediatric specialist will help to improve range of movement in the neck and help with core strength and midline stability.
To further help with strength and stability and reduce the incidence and severity of plagiocephaly, repositioning techniques will enable your baby to improve control and positioning. Encourage your baby to play on the front (‘tummy time’), use a carry sling, and balance your baby on your knee without allowing him to rest his head against you.
If these techniques have failed to make a difference in the head shape by the time your baby is around five months old, it is important that you consult a specialist as soon as possible in order to avoid permanent deformation. Technology in Motion provides the unique TiMband treatment in its clinics across the UK. They have corrected thousands of babies’ head shapes to date. Call 0113 218 8030 for more information, and an expert will be happy to answer your questions.