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Torticollis (Wry Neck)

  • What is Torticollis (Wry Neck)?

    Torticollis (also called wry neck) occurs when the baby’s head is tilted at an angle. The chin points to one shoulder, while the head points toward the opposite shoulder.

  • Congenital torticollis occurs when the neck muscle that runs up and towards the back of your baby’s neck (sternocleidomastoid muscle) is shortened. Torticollis may occur:

    • soon after birth due to scar tissue and tightness of the muscle on one side of the neck
    • later in childhood

    Pain can indicate an infection or displacement of the joints in the upper neck. Sometimes congenital torticollis is caused by a congenital bone malformation in the cervical spine (neck portion of the spine).

  • The baby will have difficulty turning the head to the opposite side and may not be able to move their head as well as other babies. There may also be a lump in the baby’s neck muscle or tightness in the neck muscle (sternocleidomastoid). The baby may have flattening of the head and face due to their preferred head position.

  • Treatment involves stretching the baby’s tight neck muscle. A physiotherapist will demonstrate how to do the exercises safely. Other ways to naturally stretch the baby’s neck is to do things that allow them to rotate their chin toward the shoulder of the affected side, for example:

    • During feeding, hold the child in a way that makes them rotate their chin to the correct position
    • Position the crib such that the child turns their chin the correct way to see the room
    • Place toys and other objects in a way that the baby has to turn their head to see and play with them

    If your baby does not improve after a few months of stretching, surgery may be needed to stretch or lengthen the neck muscle.

  • Complications include:

    • Asymmetry of the head (lopsided head)
    • Contracture (permanent shortening) of the neck muscle
    • Flat head
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