Can Flat Head Syndrome Cause Brain Damage?
Following a diagnosis of plagiocephaly, parents often carry out extensive research online to try and understand exactly how the condition affects the brain or seek out clinical online studies to help them decide whether to treat and which treatment option will have the best results for their baby.Although doing your own research is actively encouraged, we know that there are many conflicting studies out there which can leave you feeling even more confused, rather than informed.
One of the most common concerns many parents have whether plagiocephaly has an effect on the brain and what cranial remoulding will have on their baby – can it cause brain damage?
The good news is that plagiocephaly and flat head syndrome do not affect brain development or cause brain damage. Head size is dependent on the brain size; head shape is dependent on external forces, which can either deform or reform. The brain is a flexible organ in how it develops and grows in infancy and there is no research which proves that the deformity in the shape of the skull affects neurological function. We recognise that these deformities can be corrected and the way that our treatment works is by using the natural brain growth to bring about correction.
To gain a better understanding of how your baby’s brain does develop, here is a brief look at the growing process it goes through from conception through to birth and beyond.
Plagiocephaly and Brain Development
A baby’s brain grows and develops from conception and at birth the brain is about a quarter of the size of an adult brain. By this time it has millions of cells, synapses and connections and is at its most ‘plastic’, ready to continue growing and learning, indeed the infant head is the most developed part of the body and the brain is by far the most demanding and hungriest organ that we have. This is why human babies are born with such disproportionately large heads in comparison to the body.
Before birth, babies are already learning and developing nerve connections as well as the senses, including touch, hearing, taste and sight. Hence why at birth, we are already ready to breathe, cry, suck and even recognise our mother’s voice.
In the first six months, a baby’s brain doubles in size before doubling again during the following six months. This amazing growth rate is accompanied by the development of connections to allow the processing of a huge amount of new information and experiences, forming a firm foundation for early and adult life.
In an infant the skull must remain flexible in order to accommodate this rapid growth. All the sutures remain open and the bones of the skull flexible, gradually becoming firmer until the point of skeletal maturity at age eighteen to twenty. This is when the long bones in our body have stopped growing and the hormonal changes that happen during puberty have run their course.
Bones do remain plastic and there is continual bone reformation throughout life, which is how bones can heal when they are broken. The skull can also continue to change, although the final shape depends on its starting point.
There are a number of studies which establish a link between neural development and head shape deformities, and as research on the brain is in a very active stage, understanding on how the infant brain develops is becoming more developed. However, although the mechanism of deformity is well understood, there’s still no definite understanding of just why one in 2 babies develops a defomity whilst the others don’t.
Can Plagiocephaly Helmets Hinder Brain Development?
The quick answer is, no. When fitting a TiMbandAir helmet, we always ensure that there’s enough room to allow brain growth to continue at a normal rate. We don’t stop growth, we use it to bring about correction and the helmet allows the growth to be directed where it needs to be in order to bring about a more improved and corrected head shape. Helmet therapy is a favourable treatment method in correcting cranial and ear asymmetry without compromising head growth (1).
The gentle, soft cell lining inside the helmet corrects the head shape as the brain grows in such a way that is safe for the baby and pain free.
A study by Maziyar Keshtgar concurs that “Wearing the cranial helmet relieves the pressure from one area at the back of the baby’s head and distributes it all around the baby’s skull which assists the natural symmetric skull growth of all regions.”
By treating infants during their early in life, we give the babies that we treat the opportunity to develop normally and to be able to engage in all activities that require head protection. Keshtgar’s research also found that, “most favourable cosmetic outcomes can be achieved when this treatment is applied early on infants between 6-12 months of age” (2).
Helmet therapy is clinically proven to help infants achieve a more symmetrical head shape and therefore more symmetrical facial features. There are numerous benefits of a plagiocephaly helmet to help babies with plagiocephaly become the people that they are meant to be; opportunities that simply wouldn’t have been available if they had been left with an abnormal head shape.
Hopefully this post answers your questions regarding whether plagiocephaly effects the brain. We believe that families should have full access to solid information about plagiocephaly from diagnosis to the treatment options that are available in order to make the right decision for their baby. We take the time to advise all parents on treatment and will always be at the other end of the phone if you have any queries.
Book an appointment at your nearest clinic by calling 0330 100 1800, or browse our website for more information.
(1) Kim SY, Park MS, Yang JI, Yim SY. Comparison of helmet therapy and counter positioning for deformational plagiocephaly. Ann Rehabil Med. 2013;37:785–795.
(2) Keshtgar, Maziyar. Evaluating the Effectiveness of Cranial Molding for Treatment of Positional Plagiocephaly Using Finite Element Analysis. Diss. California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, 2015.