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Home Base Physical Therapy What is Torticollis?

Torticollis is a fairly common condition that affects nearly 1 in 300 newborn babies and can be easily treated with pediatric physical therapy.  

Derived from Latin roots, torticollis literally means twisted neck and is a condition where the SCM (sternocleidomastoid) muscle becomes shortened or tight.  It can be present at birth or take several months to develop.  Torticollis can be caused by a variety of factors including the way a baby was positioned in the womb before birth, abnormal development of the SCM muscle, or trauma to the muscle during birth.

Some babies with torticollis will also develop a flat head (positional plagiocephaly) on one or both sides as a result of lying in one position all the time. Or they might develop a small neck lump or bump, which is similar to a “knot” in a tense muscle. Both of these conditions tend to go away as the torticollis improves.

If you suspect your baby might have torticollis some signs to look for include:

  • tilt the head in one direction (this can be difficult to notice in very young infants)
  • prefer looking at you over one shoulder instead of turning to follow you with his or her eyes
    if breastfed, have difficulty breastfeeding on one side (or prefers one breast only)
  • work hard to turn toward you and get frustrated when unable turn his or her head completely

If you suspect that your baby may have torticollis it is a good idea to seek a consultation with a physical therapist that specializes in pediatrics, more specifically developmental pediatrics.