The Children's Institute Blog

National PT Month: Torticollis

Posted: Oct 24, 2017 by The Children's Institute

After launching, in 1994, the Back to Sleep campaign – a National Institutes of Health initiative encouraging parents to sleep infants on their backs to reduce risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) – incidence of SIDS dropped more than 50 percent. But what clinicians might not have anticipated was a spike in cases of torticollis, a condition – which we are profiling today as part of National Physical Therapy Month – where the head tends to be rotated to one side and tilted to the opposite side. In infants, it is generally congenital muscular torticollis.

Torticollis therapyBecause infants now are sleeping on their backs, muscles in the neck and upper back aren't stretched and strengthened as much as if they were sleeping in a prone position, or on their stomachs.

“We’ve gone from generations of infants who’ve spent most of their time on their bellies to generations of kids who spend most of their time on their backs,” said Theresa Miller-Ferri, a physical therapist at The Children’s Institute. “If they’re staying in the same position all of the time … that can cause other asymmetries in the head and face, and elsewhere in the body that can impact development.”

“If left untreated, it’s not going to go away on its own,” she added.

Laura Caton came to The Children’s Institute earlier this year, when her daughter Eleanora was just two months old. She had noticed there was something wrong about the way her daughter was positioning her head shortly before Eleanora’s two-month well visit with their pediatrician. Four months later, the problem is resolved almost entirely.

“The way I would hold her, her face was always sort of stuck in my shoulder [and] that would make her cry,” Laura said. “Now, she can look over my shoulder – and look both ways.”

“A lot of the therapy is so subtle – [Theresa] seems like she’s playing when she’s working with her – it’s pretty cool,” said Laura, who also is Mom to big sister Reese, 12, and big brother Ezra, three. “I never feel it’s uncomfortable for her and it’s made such a huge impact. Within even just a couple of weeks, I started noticing a change.”

“I look forward to going. I look forward to her progress,” she added.

Laura recently introduced Eleanora to a family friend who works with infants with torticollis.

“She never noticed. She was surprised when I told her she had it,” Laura said. “That’s how much she’s improved …. She looks both ways. She has terrific range of motion.”

Theresa said it’s not uncommon to see those gains – as long as caregivers identify the problem and address it early.

“The earlier, the better,” Theresa said.

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