People of all shapes, sizes, and ages can benefit from physical therapy. It’s not uncommon for an infant to be seen in the Center for Physical Rehabilitation’s clinic. People often stop in their tracks to catch a glimpse of a cute baby, followed up with the question, “You treat babies, too?” The answer is yes. One of several reasons a baby may be seen for physical therapy is torticollis.
Torticollis, a symptom rather than distinct disease process, describes the position of an infant’s head. The name comes from the Latin word tortus meaning twisted + collis meaning neck or collar. In torticollis, the position of the infant’s head is tilted to the involved site with a rotation toward the opposite shoulder. The sternocleidomastroid (SCM) is a neck muscle that moves the head into a tilt and opposite rotation and is often affected in torticollis. The incidence of torticollis in babies has been increasing in past years.
The cause of torticollis is unknown. Theories include a crowded position in the womb and/or a decreased blood supply or trauma to the SCM muscle prior to birth. After birth, torticollis may be caused by positional preferences, such as the infant spending too much time with their head turned one particular way. Torticollis may be a result of muscular, skeletal, neurological, or visual conditions; the below focuses on muscular torticollis.
Torticollis needs to be addressed for several reasons. If ignored, it can impact an infant's development of vision, sensory processing, feeding, and fine and gross motor skills.
Examples may include:
- Decreased head control
- Limited visual tracking
- Delayed sitting
- Asymmetrical crawling
- Delayed walking
- Poor balance
- Difficulty feeding