What is congenital torticollis?

Congenital Torticollis

Congenital torticollis in children: Overview

Congenital torticollis is a problem your baby was born with. It means your baby's head is tilted. The chin points to one shoulder, and the back of the head tilts toward the other shoulder. It happens because a neck muscle is shortened. This does not cause pain.

You may notice a lump in your baby's neck muscle. The lump usually goes away on its own.

Your baby needs treatment. This can be done with physical therapy, stretches, or surgery. Stretching involves tilting your baby's head back to its normal position. This helps your baby's face and skull grow evenly. Treatment also helps give your baby better movement of the head and neck.

Torticollis is also called wryneck.

What are the symptoms of congenital torticollis?

Your baby's head is tilted to one side. The chin points to one shoulder, and the head tilts toward the opposite shoulder. You may notice that your baby cannot move their head as well as other babies. You may also notice a lump in your baby's neck muscle.

How is congenital torticollis treated?

Treatment includes stretching your baby's tight neck muscle. You will do this several times a day. Your doctor or physical therapist will teach you how to safely do the exercises.

If your baby does not improve after a few months of stretching, contact your doctor. There may be another problem. Or surgery may be needed to help stretch or lengthen the neck muscle.

The lump in the muscle often goes away on its own.

How is congenital torticollis diagnosed?

The condition is often first noticed by a caregiver. Your doctor will examine your baby. You may be asked questions about your baby's birth. Your doctor may want an X-ray of the cervical spine to rule out bone problems.

How can you care for your child who has congenital torticollis?

Try to stretch your baby's tight neck muscle several times a day. Do things so that your baby turns their chin toward the correct shoulder. Put your baby in a "tummy time" position and let them lift their head. Toys can be helpful for both turning the head and tummy time practice.

Congenital torticollis

Baby with normal neck muscles, compared to baby with congenital torticollis, with shortened neck muscle on right side causing head to tilt up to left.

Torticollis, also known as "wryneck," is a condition in which your baby's head is tilted. One of your newborn's neck muscles is shortened. So the chin points away from the shortened neck muscle. And the back of the head tilts back toward the shoulder. For example, if your baby's right neck muscle is shortened, the head will tilt back to the right shoulder and face left.

What causes congenital torticollis?

Congenital torticollis occurs when the neck muscle that runs up and toward the back of your baby's neck (sternocleidomastoid muscle) is shortened. This brings your baby's head down and to one side. This is known as congenital muscular torticollis.

Experts don't know exactly what causes the shortened neck muscle.

Some cases of congenital torticollis are caused by a bone problem in the neck portion of the spine (cervical spine). This is known as a congenital malformation of the cervical spine.

Torticollis may also occur later in life, but this is not congenital torticollis.

Congenital torticollis in children: When to call

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • Your child does not improve after a few months of home treatment.
  • Your child does not get better as expected.

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