Does Untreated Flat Head Syndrome Cause Problems Later in Life?
If you’re struggling to decide whether or not to go ahead with treatment for flat head syndrome, you’re certainly not alone. A quick search for ‘flat head syndrome’ on a parenting forum soon confirms this. Do helmets harm babies’ heads? (Answer, No) Can the flat spot return after treatment? (Answer, No),What happens if you don’t treat flat head syndrome at all? It’s really difficult for parents to gather sound and unbiased information which enables them to make an informed decision.
Of course, all parents want what is best for their baby. But with so much conflicting information from GPs, paediatricians, treatment providers and other mums and dads, how do you know what is best and whether there really are any repercussions of leaving flat head syndrome untreated? According to the NHS, flat head syndrome will nearly always improve by itself with a little help from repositioning and tummy time. On the other hand, Orthotists maintain that this isn’t necessarily true – especially if the flattening is severe or if the baby is older than 5 months. If correction is going to happen it will happen in the early months. Waiting and seeing or trying repositioning isn’t an option for older babies or children who have a moderate or severe head shape deformity.
This article discusses what happens if you don’t treat flat head syndrome, and aims to help you to base your treatment decision purely on the facts.
What Happens if You Don’t Treat Flat Head Syndrome?
One thing we know for certain is that flat head syndrome can and does improve by itself – provided the deformity isn’t severe, it’s noticed early enough, and that measures are rigorously taken to ensure that the baby doesn’t spend too long lying with the head in the same position.
However, there are many cases, approximately 5% of the population, in which the flat spot does become permanent. Again, a quick glance through parenting forums confirms this to be the case, e.g. BabyCenter:
Many physicians are now in agreement that those babies with, moderate or severe flat head syndrome can only successfully be treated by means of a helmet. However, since there is very little research into flat head syndrome, the condition currently lacks a definitive standard of care that is applicable on a national scale.
In order to get conclusive evidence about the effectiveness of helmets, doctors and scientists would have to run a randomised controlled clinical trial. For this, infants with flat head syndrome would have to be randomly divided into two groups, one of which would receive treatment, and the other of which wouldn’t. Unfortunately, when this kind of study has been tried, nobody wants to be in the untreated group so the data immediately becomes corrupted. Many experts think that this type of study will not be undertaken, and according to this LiveScience article, clinicians already know from experience that the treatment works, so it would be unethical not to treat the control group. In the UK there is a large untreated group and a relatively small treated one so to undertake a comparison study should not be difficult, but the work is not being done.
So if severe flat head syndrome doesn’t adequately correct itself, what are the repercussions of leaving it untreated?
There is one indisputable practical outcome of leaving flat head syndrome untreated, which is the issue of being unable to wear many types of protective headwear. Whether it’s for leisure, e.g. cycling, horse riding or rock climbing; or for work, e.g. construction, armed forces or emergency services; helmets are only made to fit heads that are within the ‘normal range’. So untreated flat head syndrome will restrict the number of activities in which a person can safely participate.
A related psycho-social consequence is the emotional difficulties a person might face throughout childhood and possibly into later life as a result of their ‘abnormal’ head shape. Unfortunately, there’s no getting away from the fact in our society, symmetric facial features are considered more attractive than asymmetrical ones. This also means that your child may feel that they are unable to wear certain hairstyles, opting instead for ones that conceal their deformity as best as possible.
Research into the potential developmental issues associated with flat head syndrome is still in the early stages and there is difficulty in determining a causal relationship. However, preliminary and ongoing studies indicate that there is a link between flat head syndrome and delay in neural development, especially in terms of motor function.
So the short answer to the question of what happens if you don’t treat flat head syndrome is that, if the head shape is moderate or severe, it probably won’t improve adequately by itself.
So called ‘natural’ correction depends on several factors, age, severity of the condition and the amount of time your baby spends with the head in the same position.
Aside from potential safety, practical and psychosocial issues, the consequences of leaving flat head syndrome untreated are becoming clearer as the affected population group reaches maturity.
If you are interested in helmet treatment and your baby is under 14 months old, Technology in Motion can help. Browse our website www.technologyinmotion.com for more information or call 0330 100 1800 to enquire about treatment options.