What is Torticollis?

Infant Torticollis is a term that refers to the shortening of the sternocleidomastoid muscle (SCM). This shortening results in the baby’s head tilting to one side, and or difficulty turning their head to look to one side. Furthermore, because one side of the neck is shortened, it means the other side is stretched and weakened. This results in the baby having difficulty turning their head to one side (see below for more info). This condition can develop from the baby’s position in the womb, as result of a difficult childbirth, or from prolonged positioning in car seats or other baby “containers”. (Click here to learn about Container Baby Syndrome).

What happens if Infant Torticollis is left untreated?

If left untreated, a persistent care of Infant Torticollis can have a long lasting and negative impact on a child.

HEAD SHAPE: The bones in an infant’s head are pliable and the sutures in the skull have not hardened. This is necessary to allow an infant to pass through the birth canal. However, because infant heads are malleable, the positions that we put them in effect the shape of the skull. Babies who have torticollis or spend to much time in “containers” often develop flat spots or mis-shaped skulls, clinically called Plagiocephaly.


DEVELOPMENTAL MOTOR MILESTONES: Tight neck muscles make it difficult to perform certain activities such as rolling, crawling, or even tolerating tummy time, which then can lead to asymmetrical development and strength and cause problems later on.

FEEDING: Head and neck alignment are critical for good swallowing. Torticollis occasionally affect the muscles in a baby’s face, effecting the oral cavity. If you notice your baby is having trouble latching or sucking, or you see your baby losing liquid out of one side of his mouth, make sure to tell your therapist.

SOCIAL EMOTIONAL: Eye contact is a foundation to communication and connecting with others. If an infant is unable to turn to look around, or turn to look at someone who is speaking to them, they may miss that key component of eye contact, affecting their social emotional development.

How do is Torticollis treated?

Most cases of Infant torticollis can be treated through massage, stretching and positioning treatments strategies which can be addressed by Physical Therapy. Getting a baby in Tummy Time is one of the most effective ways to address Infant Torticollis. A physical therapist will work with you and your baby on manual techniques you can use (see above), the use of warm compresses, as well as design activities and positioning programs, that will help your baby strengthen the weak muscles on one side and stretch the muscles on the tight side. Through weekly and consistent therapy most babies recover from Torticollis without any additional devices or services.

However, there are some cases that do require more aggressive interventions such as being fit for a helmet to re-shape the skull. If very severe or if left untreated, torticollis will require surgical intervention. The good news is that Torticollis is treatable