Typical Newborn Orthopedic Conditions Treated With Physical Therapy
In honor of Dr. Drew's new baby Tessa, this weeks newsletter is on a typical orthopedic condition newborn babies can have called torticollis. This condition can be treated easily with physical therapy.
What is torticollis? Torticollis is a condition that typically affects infants. Most often, it affects their neck muscles – specifically the sternocleidomastoid (SCM), as seen in first photo – and causes them to tilt their head to one side and rotate to the opposite side. Torticollis is often associated with plagiocephaly – flattening of one side of the back of the head. An infant’s skull is much softer than an adult’s skull, so it can easily change shape. With torticollis, an infant who prefers to look right will typically sleep in that position. Prolonged time on the same side of the skull can lead to flattening of that side and protrusion of the forehead
How is torticollis treated? Torticollis is treated conservatively, through stretching the neck muscles, repositioning to encourage your baby to turn their head both ways, and tummy time! Tummy time is incredibly important for all babies in order to help them develop muscles in their arms, neck, trunk, and legs. It helps them reach important developmental milestones including head control, rolling, sitting, crawling, etc. Additionally, tummy time in infants with torticollis and plagiocephaly will help avoid putting pressure through the already flat side of the skull.
Why do I keep seeing babies in helmets? If you’ve thought to yourself, “When I was growing up, no one had helmets, and we all turned out fine,” you are not wrong. Plagiocephaly prevalence increased over 200% since 1996 with the advent of the “Back to Sleep” campaign. The “Back to Sleep” (now called “Safe to Sleep”) campaign began as a way to educate parents on the link between prone sleeping (stomach sleeping) and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). As more parents began placing their infants supine (on their backs to sleep), plagiocephaly increased significantly. More time and pressure on the back of the skull leads to increased likelihood of skull asymmetries. On a positive note, SIDS in the US has declined by 50% since the “Back to Sleep” initiative began!
What should I do if I think my child has torticollis? First off, don’t panic! It’s extremely common, and extremely treatable. Second, give us a call! Our pediatric therapists have evaluated babies as young as 8 weeks old for torticollis. After the evaluation, you’ll be provided with home exercises, stretching, and repositioning techniques specific to your baby’s condition. None of these stretching techniques are painful for your baby. The earlier you start to address torticollis, the faster your baby will recover!