Why your infant’s head tilt can be a big deal
Congenital Muscular Torticollis (abbreviated CMT) is a common condition in children, mostly infants, where the child presents with a head tilt to one side, and often rotation to the opposite side. When present, this is seen at birth or shortly after, and usually goes hand-in-hand with head flattening (often diagnosed as “plagiocephaly”).
This condition has been described by research as occurring in nearly 4-16% of newborns, so chances are, you have either had a child or know a child who has experienced torticollis!
The good news is when caught and treated, CMT is extremely responsive to treatment, with 92-100% of infants under 3-4 months experiencing excellent resolution following physical therapy (PT) treatment. PT treatment for CMT might include: neck stretches and active movement, different tummy-time positions, moving the child through specific developmental positions (rolling, getting into sitting, getting into hands/knees, etc.)…all to encourage symmetric neck and body development. Of course, the babies just think they’re playing, when really they’re exercising!
The bad news is if it’s not noticed by a parent, physician or other professionals, CMT can negatively affect breastfeeding latch and breast preferences, jaw alignment, visual development, face symmetry, head shape (sometimes leading to those baby helmets), spinal alignment, symmetric developmental movements, even the child’s balance as they start to stand/walk!
Now, if that scared you, let’s revisit the statistic of CMT being 92-100% resolvable with treatment! Additionally, evidence strongly supports earlier referral to PT services (ideally in the first four weeks of life); with decreasing resolution the older the infant becomes (and the longer it takes to resolve!). Plus, try to catch a running toddler to stretch their neck…EARLIER IS BETTER!
So, if you’re noticing a preference of your child’s head either to tip or rotate, let your pediatrician know, and ask them if physical therapy is an option for your child. Reach out to us at the Grand Rapids Performance Center with any questions and to schedule a consultation or evaluation for your child!.
*Reference: Kaplan SL, Coulter C, Sarget B. Physical Therapy Management of Congenital Muscular Torticollis: A 2018 Evidence-Based Clinical Practice Guideline from the APTA Academy of Pediatric Physical Therapy. Pediatr Phys ther 2018;30:240-190.