paediatric physiotherapist

How to Recognise Baby Torticollis? How can I know if my baby has baby stiff neck?

You may ask yourself or notice from looking at your infant that since birth your baby prefers to only look to one side with their head tilted either to the left or to the right. You may have already visited your child’s paediatrician to see what the matter could be. Once the paediatrician has looked over the baby and the head tilt, they would confirm that the baby has Torticollis.

What is baby Torticollis also called baby stiff neck?

Torticollis in newborns can occur either from injury during birth or possibly from the baby’s position in the uterus. Baby Torticollis is simply known as the bending and turning of the neck also called baby stiff neck. From being restricted in their movements it results in the baby having a stiff neck and only wanting to have the head on one side. This will be with no or very little movement to the other side.

How do I know if my baby has Torticollis? My baby turn their head only on the left or on the right

A few indications that your baby has Torticollis or baby stiff neck could be that of:

  • Your baby always sleeps with their head on one side. Every night or during their nap.
  • Your baby will always sleep with their head on the left or on the right so even when you try to turn their head, they will move it back to the same position. As that will be a soothing position for them with the head and neck turned in on the side.
  • Your baby could refuse to feed, by putting their head on the left or the right-hand side
  • While you gently hold your baby’s head at the back, they do not allow you to turn their head on the left or on the side.
  • And when there is a stimulus of light or sound, your baby still does not want to turn their head.

How do I know if my baby torticollis should be treated by a paediatric physiotherapist?

If your baby shows some of the torticollis signs listed above, there is a big percentage of chance that your baby has torticollis. An important information about baby torticollis is that the earliest it is treated the easiest it will be to fix it. If you wait too long, your baby will starts growing with this stiff neck and it will take a long amount of time for them to regain a full neck range of movement. Not treating baby stiff neck early might also bring a flathead spot syndrome, as they will always prefer keeping their head on one side. Most babies with torticollis will develop a flat spot at the back of their head or on the opposite side of their torticollis, as their head will always be in contact with the different surfaces (bed, changing mattress…)  on the same spot. This will deform their skull, which is still very malleable and which should normally take a nice round shape by baby turning their head of these surfaces with a full range of movement – going regularly from left to right and from right to left.

Why my baby doesn’t turn their head on one side? Why my baby turns their head only on one side?

Your baby turns their head only on the right or on the left due to the restrictions of the baby neck muscles, which are often due to the baby neck position during the pregnancy.

Baby neck muscles work as antagonist; when the left baby neck muscles contract, the right baby neck muscles stretch to allow a normal range of movement in the baby’s neck.

When the position of the baby during the pregnancy forces them to keep their head inclined on one side (right or left), one of the muscles will slowly retract when the opposite baby neck muscles will be slowly overstretched. It will limit your baby’s neck to only turn their head on the side where their neck muscles are retracted, as the overstretched muscle won’t be strong enough to compensate the retraction. Therefore it will not allow baby to turn their head in the direction of the overstretched muscle. That is why the most important part of paediatric physio treatment for baby torticollis will be to stretch the baby neck muscles on the side where they are retracted, and strengthen the baby neck muscles on the other side. After a few sessions your baby’s neck muscles will be back to normal tone and with a normal neck mobility.

How do you diagnose baby torticollis or baby stiff neck? Paediatric physiotherapist assessment

To get a better grasp or to assist, your paediatrician will refer you to see a paediatric physiotherapist to help your baby. The initial appointment with the baby physiotherapist will consist of a full assessment on the baby’s head and neck to help the baby move from the left and right with ease. The Paediatric physiotherapist will also ask questions regarding your pregnancy such as the baby’s birth, to their positions at home as well as how they eat and sleep.

Catherine, a mum to a 4-month-old baby, mentioned that her baby has a good sleeping pattern – however when the baby is eating, he only wants to chew food on his right-hand side. Also, her baby does not like tummy time at all. This may also relate to you and your baby. From this, the therapist will make a thorough check, looking at the child’s positioning and the neck rotation, the baby’s side and sitting up. The therapist will also assess the child’s head shape. Once the assessment has been conducted, the therapist will confirm the type of Baby Torticollis your baby has.

How paediatric physiotherapist treats baby torticollis and baby stiff neck?

Our paediatric physiotherapist will begin the intended treatment with gentle movements of the baby’s neck. Alongside showing you how to help your baby stretch their neck as well. Stretching baby’s neck muscles while strengthening baby’s neck muscle on the other side, will be an important part of your baby stiff neck treatment. The paediatric physio will be showing the different baby neck stretching and strengthening positions and how to hold them with ease. Another form of treatment done by the paediatric physio on a baby with torticollis and stiff neck will be to help stimulate your baby with sounds, toys and lights to encourage your baby to move their head to each side, dependant on what side they are in. Overall, the therapist will then encourage you to continue these same exercises at home a few times every day.

Catherine’s baby will have weekly sessions with the Paediatric physio, who will continue to encourage the baby to move his head and neck on his own. Our Paediatric physio goal is to aid in regaining strength and movement in the baby’s neck muscles. After a handful of sessions, Catherine reports that her 4-month-old can now hold his head up with ease and can look to both sides when encouraged as well as on his own.

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