What is Torticollis?

A pediatrician discusses wryneck, which results in tight neck muscles that can limit head movement in babies.
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If you notice that your baby tends to hold her head to one particular side, she may have something called torticollis. According to James Laughlin, M.D., a pediatrician in Bloomington, Indiana, torticollis, which is also known as wryneck, is not uncommon. "Torticollis is a muscle shortening or contraction that can occur from positioning in the womb or persistent positioning after the babies are born," Dr. Laughlin explains.

Because a baby's neck muscles are tight, he may move in a way that seems constricted. Dr. Laughlin says that, in addition to limited neck movement, children with torticollis also have a tendency to develop plagiocephaly. This is a condition in which the skull is asymmetrical because a child rests on the same spot consistently enough to actually flatten the area. The warning signs of torticollis and plagiocephaly are the same, Dr. Laughlin says: If the baby tries to keep his head to a certain side, parents should bring this to their doctor's attention.

Dr. Laughlin, who is a Fellow in the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), was the primary author of "Prevention and Management of Positional Skull Deformities," the AAP's recent policy statement on the issue of plagiocephaly and torticollis. Incidences of both deformities have been on the rise since the 1990s, when the American Academy of Pediatrics warned parents to place babies on their backs when sleeping, in an effort to stop sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

Dr. Laughlin says that parents who are worried that their child might have torticollis should contact their physician. He adds that there are a number of ways parents can help their child. "When we see this, sometimes we'll just talk with the parents and explain that they need to make sure they're trying to position the baby so she's not always sleeping in one position or lying in one position," he says. Prevention of torticollis can include tummy time and increased neck and head movement.

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