Torticollis, from the Latin word for “twisted neck”, refers to any condition in which the neck is bent irregularly. Many adults may suffer from torticollis after a bad sleep or long travel. Newborns experience torticollis either because of abnormal positioning in the womb or because of birth injury during childbirth. Another term for infant torticollis is congenital muscular torticollis. The problem can usually improve with the help of simple position changes and stretching exercises which can easily be done at home.
What Is Infant Torticollis?
Infant torticollis is relatively common in newborns. It can occur as a result of birth injury or it may take up to three months to develop. It is relatively unknown what causes infant torticollis. Usually, it is said that torticollis occurs because of cramping of a fetus in the uterus or because of abnormal position buttocks of the baby facing towards the birth canal Typically, improper conditions in the womb or medical errors during the delivery process are thought to be responsible for infant torticollis.
Causes of Infant Torticollis
Infant torticollis can happen for many reasons. In some of the cases there is no apparent reason. Other cases have been linked to specific pre-birth and post-birth conditions or errors. Torticollis may also be inherited. In some cases infants inherit genes with certain characters that then lead to infant torticollis.
Some of the most commonly attributed causes can include:
- Forceps injuries
- Vacuum extraction injuries
- Abnormal birth presentation such as breech position
- Improper, forceful pulling by the physician during delivery
- Misalignment in spine while in utero
- Grisel’s syndrome
- Accidents, such as falling from a high place
- Too much time lying in a car seat, stroller or bouncer.
Symptoms of infant Torticollis
Infants who have torticollis often act like most other babies. However, when it comes to physical activities that involve moving heads or turning, they may experience difficulty and pain. An infant who has torticollis may tilt his head in only one direction. The infant may prefer to look over one shoulder instead of following with his or her eyes. If breastfed, he or she may face difficulty during feeding, tending to prefer only one breast.
The infant may also work hard to turn towards an object or a person but will then be frustrated when he is unable to turn his or head completely. Some babies tend to develop a flat head because of constantly lying in one position and some babies might develop a small lump or bump which similar to a knot in the tense muscle. Both of these conditions will often subside when torticollis is treated.
Physical Examination of Infant Torticollis
A medical professional will typically give a physical examination of an infant after it is born. Tests or procedures may be done to rule out any possible causes of pain in head and neck. Torticollis can be less severe than other related ailments and it is important to rule out other conditions.
A physical examination of an infant with torticollis will usually show:
- Abnormal position of the neck causing the head to tilt, rotate or lean forward or back
- The entire head pulling to one side (in more severe cases)
- Neck muscles that are shorter or larger than normal neck muscles of infants
Tests for Infant Torticollis
Several tests exist to diagnose less obvious cases of infant torticollis. Most tend to involve imaging techniques. Still, some tests look for non-musculoskeletal sources that may trigger torticollis.
Tests that could be done to diagnose infant torticollis include:
- Neck CT scan
- Electromyogram (EMG) in order to see which muscles are affected.
- Blood tests to look for medical conditions that are linked to torticollis.
- MRI of the brain
Infant Torticollis Treatment
The most common treatment for torticollis for infants younger than three months old is passive stretching. This is a form of static stretching used to reposition the affected neck muscle. If stretching treatment does not alleviate the torticollis, surgery is the next option.
It cannot be performed until the infant reaches pre-school age, which is around four years old. If torticollis was caused by some other reason such as spinal, muscular or nervous system damage, it may cured by heat traction or massage therapy to the spine, neck braces, medication, or routine injections (usually every three months of botulinum).
Infant Torticollis Legal Considerations
If your child has suffered pain or immobility, he or she might have developed infant torticollis from a birth injury, medical malpractice, or negligence. Even if you are uncertain, it is crucial to speak with a qualified and experienced birth injury attorney. He or she will be able to provide the expertise to help you seek justice for your case.
Gupta, Rupal. “Infant Torticollis.” KidsHealth – the Web’s Most Visited Site about Children’s Health. The Nemours Foundation, 1 Oct. 2014. Web. 26 Jan. 2015. <http://kidshealth.org/parent/medical/bones/torticollis.html>.
“Infant Torticollis | Birth Injury Guide.” Birth Injury Guide. Web. 26 Jan. 2015. <http://www.birthinjuryguide.org/birth-injury/types/infant-torticollis/>.
“Torticollis: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia.” U.S National Library of Medicine. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Web. 26 Jan. 2015. <http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000749.htm>.