Weighing Up the Treatment Options for Flat Head Syndrome

Weighing Up the Treatment Options for Flat Head Syndrome

10 FAQs from parents, health visitors and concerned family members

Bringing a little person into the world is a wonderful thing, but it can also be an emotional rollercoaster. With mixed advice coming from all directions, feelings of worry, self-doubt and guilt can quickly accumulate. One common cause for concern is the treatment of flat head syndrome, a condition that now affects almost half of infants.

While the NHS continues to advise parents to leave the flattening to round out by itself, a number of private clinics are advocating helmet treatment for moderate and severe cases of flat head syndrome.

This raises serious questions concerning the best course of action to take, with many parents wondering whether to wait and see or take more positive steps to improve their babies’ head shapes before it’s too late.

All of this can be very distressing, with concerned parents unsure of whether or not they’re making the right decisions for their children and unfortunately in some cases, feeling as though they’re being judged by others for the choices they make.

We hope this post sheds a little light on the matter, helping you to make an informed decision and giving you one less thing to worry about.

  1. Flat head syndrome isn’t a life threatening condition. Aren’t helmet clinics making it out to be a bigger deal than it actually is?

We are well aware that there is no comparison between flat head syndrome and debilitating or life-threatening illnesses, and no reputable helmet clinic would ever imply as much.

It is not our role to treat babies with such conditions and we would always refer them on to specialists. We are simply giving parents the option to correct their babies’ severe head shape deformities – and that’s all there is to it.

  1. Can a flat head really be classed as a severe deformity?

In some cases. Flat head syndrome is classified using a scale that runs from ‘normal’ to ‘severe’ depending on the extent to which the head shape deviates from the norm.

With careful management, a mild flattening will often self correct without the need for a helmet. However, left untreated, moderate and severe cases can result in permanent disfigurement, potentially with misalignment of the jaw, brow, eyes and ears.

Just because a condition isn’t life threatening, doesn’t mean that it should not be considered severe. In the case of flat head syndrome, severity is usually classed in relation to the normal head shape, which looks a little like an egg when viewed from the top.

Head shapes that are excessively wide or have an asymmetry that also deforms the cheek, brow and jaw are considered to be severe.

  1. If it’s not life threatening, what’s the point in treating it? Isn’t helmet therapy just a vanity project for parents who don’t like the shapes of their babies’ heads? Surely they should just be happy that their children are alive and well?

Of course there’s nothing more important than your baby being alive and well. However, that is not to say that there are not ways in which you can help him or her live life to the fullest.

It’s not simply about not liking the shape of your child’s head; it’s about correcting a deformity which through no fault of the parents has developed in the first few months of life. In this respect, it is no different from bracing teeth to ensure an even smile.

  1. Tooth bracing can also prevent other problems from arising, such as tooth and gum disease resulting from misplaced teeth, and even speech impediments and problems eating. If flat head syndrome is cosmetic and not proven to have any long-term effects on brain growth or function, how can treatment be justified?

It’s not just the developmental aspect that’s worth considering but also the psychological and social issues that may arise as a result of being different from the ‘norm’. Unfortunately, we live in a society that has strong ideals about physical appearance, and comments and/or isolation from the peer group can serve as a cruel reminder of this.

We are finding that we’re receiving more and more enquiries from teenagers who are desperate to improve their head shape and feel that this is holding them back. Correct treatment at the right age can prevent this.

  1. The hair will eventually cover the flat spot; surely this solves the problem?

This line of reasoning is flawed for two reasons. Firstly, it assumes that the child will never want to have a short haircut or wear different hairstyles such as ponytails or braids, which may expose the flattening. Secondly, it doesn’t account for the fact that many of the helmets used for work and leisure are only made to accommodate standard head shapes.

So having a flat head can limit a child’s options later in life not only in terms of fashion, but also in terms of the leisure activities and even the career paths that (s)he can pursue.

  1. I was told that the vast majority of babies’ heads will even out over time anyway. Perhaps I should just wait and see?

A mild flattening can often be managed adequately without the need for a helmet. However, one in 25 untreated babies is left with what is regarded as a severe, permanent head shape deformity.

We receive many calls from parents who have followed the ‘wait and see’ advice advocated by the NHS, and who are still not happy with the head shapes. However, early intervention is key and sadly we can’t do anything about a misshapen head after the age of 14 months.

  1. Are the parents to blame if a helmet is required?

Not at all. Despite parents’ best efforts, no amount of repositioning is enough to correct certain cases of flat head syndrome. Furthermore, physical disabilities and conditions that occur in combination with plagiocephaly such as torticollis can make it very difficult to reposition effectively.

The flattening may be unavoidable, as this often begins to take shape before or during birth, particularly if there have been complications such as crowding in the womb and assisted delivery.

  1. Why change what nature has provided? Isn’t that dangerous/unethical?

While flat head syndrome is a natural phenomenon, the huge increase in its incidence over the past decade or so has come about as a result of human intervention. The Back to Sleep campaign may have reduced cases of sudden infant death syndrome, but cases of flat head syndrome have spiralled as an unforeseen consequence.

The lag between this realisation and the establishment of a standard set of protocols for countermeasures such as tummy time has only made matters worse.

Treating flat head syndrome is not akin to interfering with nature; if anything, it serves to reverse a previous error of human judgement. People have been remodelling infant head shapes for thousands of years for social reasons; cranial helmets simply offer a safe and scientifically proven means of correcting an unintentional deformity.

  1. Why should I trust a private clinic over the NHS? Is this just another moneymaking scheme designed to prey on the anxieties of vulnerable parents?

This is not about companies making money. With budgets from the government getting ever tighter, the NHS is having to cut costs wherever they can and being largely cosmetic, flat head syndrome is not seen as a priority.

The scanning and moulding technologies that are used to assess babies’ heads and make helmets are by no means cheap, and every course of treatment requires an assessment and several follow-up appointments. Unfortunately, clinics have no choice but to charge in order to cover their costs.

  1. Who are these “flat head syndrome experts” anyway, and in what way are they any more qualified to advise on the treatment of my child than a trained GP?

GPs are trained to have a sound understanding of the full range of medical problems that they might encounter in their patients, hence the name ‘general practitioners’. On the other hand, clinicians are required to undergo ongoing specialist training to ensure that they know everything there is to know about their particular discipline – and specialists in flat syndrome are no exception.

To ensure that they maintain the highest possible standards, many clinicians are registered with professional associations and regulating bodies. All our clinicians at Technology in Motion are registered and regulated by the UK Health Care Professions Council (HCPC). Steve Mottram, our Managing Director, has twice been chair of the British Association of Prosthetists and Orthotists (BAPO), with which he continues to be involved.

So while GPs have an encyclopaedic knowledge of health and medicine, flat head syndrome specialists will have a far greater understanding of the condition specifically. As a case in point, we see an average of 20 to 30 infants from medically qualified parents each year who come to us for advice and who are happy for us to treat their babies.

We hope that we have answered some of the questions you might have had about the treatment of flat head syndrome and, in doing so, addressed some of your concerns. However, we have saved our most valuable piece of advice for last:

Don’t let your anxieties override your enjoyment of this precious time. As a parent, only you can know deep down what is right for your little one. Enjoy your baby and trust your instincts, and the rest will follow naturally.

If you have any further questions or concerns relating to the treatment of flat head syndrome or wish to book a free assessment at your nearest clinic, call Technology in Motion today on 0330 100 1800

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