Babies & Chiropractic Care – Infant Torticollis and Plagiocephaly

Tummy Time, Flat Heads, Movement Preferences in Infants & Chiropractic Care:

Have you felt a flat spot on you infant’s head? Or maybe you’ve observed your baby only looks or rolls to one side? They might even sit with their head tilted to one side – where they look like they’re posing for a cute photoshoot? Any of these attributes may relate to what is known as “infantile torticollis” (i.e. neck muscle tightness) and/or “plagiocephaly” (i.e. flattening of the skull).

What is torticollis and plagiocephaly?

With the onset of the Safe to Sleep Campaign in 1994, the goal was to reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) – commonly known as “crib death”. This campaign advocated for infants to sleep on their backs (which reduced SIDS by 94%) but led to the increase of plagiocephaly from 1 in 300 to 1 in 50 live births. In turn, this has increased the number of infants with flat heads, leading to more infants being assessed and treated by chiropractors and physiotherapists. Though the numbers may seem daunting, parents should take comfort in the fact that a combination of chiropractic visits and simple exercises being done in the home with the helping hands of parents, are incredibly effective in the first six months since birth!

Alongside the increase in plagiocephaly, there has been a spike in positional infantile torticollis – i.e. neck tightness due to infants sleeping with their head turned to one side, or favouring moving/rolling to one side. This tightness comes from shortening of the “sternocleidomastoid muscles” – two large muscles on the front of your neck which tip your head to the same side of the muscle and rotate your head to the opposite side of the muscle. As with plagiocephaly, the rise in numbers may concern parents but getting in to see a chiropractor who has experience treating these conditions within the first four months of life is very beneficial.

What does torticollis and plagiocephaly look like?

If you suspect your infant may have infantile torticollis and/or plagiocephaly, watch for these common indicators:

  • Your infant mostly looks to one side;
  • Your infant tilts their head to one side in sitting;
  • Your infant has a flat spot on their head (either on one side, or the entire back of the head); and/or;
  • Your infant has difficulty breastfeeding on one side.

If any of these apply to your infant, contact Linford Chiropractic to have your infant assessed by Dr. Joanna Galasso, who has taken advanced training to be able to assess and safely treat these conditions.

What can I do at home in the meantime?

Since infants sleep so much in the first few months (and do so mainly on their backs), you want to counteract this position by getting lots of tummy time! Not only does this get infants from laying on the back of their heads but it also activates the muscles at the back of the skull which play a role in shaping it (thus reducing plagiocephaly) and stretches the muscles on the front of the neck as well (thus reducing infantile torticollis). The current standard as recommended by midwives and pediatricians is 60 minutes of tummy time per day – which can be broken up into smaller, more manageable chunks of time – especially if your baby is not a fan of tummy time.

Here are some simple strategies to promote tummy time with your baby:

  • After a diaper change, roll your infant on to their side and wait to see them initiate bringing their ear to their shoulder instead of picking them up to place them on their tummy (this strengthens and stretches their neck muscles);
  • If you’re relaxing and laying on the couch, place your infant on your chest so they are looking up at you ( this encourages bonding and strengthening of the neck);
  • Instead of holding your infant facing you, position your infant facing out. This is considered tummy time since your infant has to extend their neck up and back in order to see – which activates the muscles at the back of their neck.

Other strategies include: positioning your infant so they lay on the side opposite of their flat spot when sleeping, and manually stretching their tight muscles by bringing their opposite ear to their opposite shoulder.

How chiropractic can help your infant

The role of a chiropractor in the treatment of infantile torticollis and/or plagiocephaly is to correct the position of your infant’s head/neck, as well as ensure proper neck alignment in the future. Specific to torticollis, chiropractors will stretch out the tight sternocleidomastoid muscles causing the head tilt or positional preference, as well as strengthen the muscles on the opposite side to get their head back into neutral. In terms of plagiocephaly, chiropractors can help to strengthen the muscles on the back of the skull which aids in shaping your infant’s skull. For either case, a typical session with a chiropractor would include: education on how to position your infant and different types of holds to stretch out your infant’s neck, as well as hands-on techniques by the chiropractor – all of which are gentle and safe for your baby.

For more targeted strategies and treatments on how to address your infant’s torticollis and/or plagiocephally, call Linford Chiropractic (780-640-9488) to book an appointment with Dr. Galasso.