What are the Advantages of Choosing a Plagiocephaly Helmet Over Conservative (Repositioning) Therapy?
Plagiocephaly helmets offer a safe and non-invasive treatment for asymmetrical and unusually wide head shapes. They don’t interfere with development and work similarly to the teeth bracing worn by older children and young adults. This post explores the benefits of a plagiocephaly helmet to help you decide on the best course of action for your baby.
What is Plagiocephaly?
Plagiocephaly is the medical term used to describe a common condition in which one side of an infant’s skull is significantly flatter than the other. It is often grouped under the better-known umbrella term of ‘flat head syndrome’ along with brachycephaly. Clinical reports estimate that the condition may affect as many as one in two infants.
Babies are born with soft, impressionable skulls to aid passage through the birth canal and accommodate the rapid growth that occurs in the brain during the first few years of life. When infants spend a lot of time sleeping with their heads in the same position, a positional plagiocephaly can develop as a result of the external pressures being exerted on the skull.
In most cases, the early signs of positional plagiocephaly are detected by parents or grandparents and the condition is reversed by repositioning the head away from the flattening as the baby plays, feeds and sleeps. Babies must always be placed on the back to sleep to minimise the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
Some infants with a flattening will need more targeted intervention to release tight muscles (torticollis) and enable use of the full range of motion in the neck, and this can be achieved through physiotherapy or osteopathy.
Repositioning will return the head to a more normal shape in roughly three out of four cases. Where this fails, a custom-moulded helmet can be used to achieve a complete correction in around 95 percent of cases. (Source: Steinberg et al., 2015)
Helmet Therapy for Plagiocephaly
Helmet therapy works by applying a gentle, continuous pressure to your baby’s developing skull throughout the day to promote even growth. This does not hurt, and once your baby gets used to wearing this new piece of clothing, it will not interfere with her everyday activities or ongoing development.
The helmet is made from light foam with a semi flexible shell and moulded to an accurate photographic scan of your baby’s head shape. It is adjusted every so often to direct the growth into the required areas.
If repositioning therapy has proven ineffective, a course of helmet therapy may be recommended starting at around four or five months of age. Treatment efficacy depends on the age of the infant and the severity of the plagiocephaly, but in most cases, the helmet must be worn for around five months in order to achieve the best possible results.
Benefits of a Plagiocephaly Helmet
Plagiocephaly helmets carry several benefits. First and foremost, they are the only treatment that has been clinically proven to help infants achieve a more symmetrical head shape and therefore more symmetrical facial features.
Some people disagree with helmet therapy on the grounds that plagiocephaly is ‘only’ a cosmetic condition and should be left in nature’s hands. However, when one considers the pressure on individuals and particularly children in our society to blend in with the crowd, the need to look and feel ‘normal’ becomes more apparent, not for reasons of vanity but in the interests of healthy emotional and social development.
Having undergone treatment, children will be able to style their hair as they wish without feeling the need to cover up. Growing up, they will be better placed to participate in sports, activities and employment for which protective headgear is required.
It has even been speculated that helmet therapy may reduce the risk of developing certain disorders associated with craniofacial asymmetry later in life. For example, misalignment of the jaw, a common knock-on effect of plagiocephaly, can later go on to cause temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ), which itself is associated with severe pain and speech disorders in its adult sufferers.
In short, helmet treatment can help babies with plagiocephaly to grow into the happy, healthy children that they deserve to be.
Here at Technology in Motion, we have been providing treatment for plagiocephaly and brachycephaly since 2003 and have successfully treated thousands of babies to date. Browse our website for more information or call 0330 100 1800 to book a free check-up at your nearest clinic.