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Pediatric Physical Therapy Guide to Infant Torticollis

Jun 10, 2023

We want the very best for our kids. Oftentimes, that involves watching for behaviors that can become problematic. Infant torticollis is a condition to keep an eye out for as it will need to be treated by a professional. Don’t fret! This condition is entirely treatable so your baby can move unbothered. 

Infant Torticollis Awareness

It’s early in the morning, and as luck would have it, you wake with a stiff neck. Oftentimes, this feeling is painful. Infant torticollis is a similar concept, but rarely will your baby feel pain. The issue with infant torticollis lies in how natural movement is hindered. But why? Torticollis occurs when the SCM, or sternocleideomastoid (say that three times fast!), muscle tightens. The SCM muscle is responsible for side bends and rotating of the neck. The cause of torticollis is unknown, but it is theorized that unusual fetus position in the uterus may hold a part in it. Even though the infant may not hurt from this condition, they will prefer one side over the other, which can lead to further complications if left untreated.

Parents are Investigators

As a parent, looking out for strange behavior in your baby sometimes comes naturally. It still is useful to know what exactly to look out for with conditions that adversely affect our babies. Detecting any early signs of torticollis is always best. Here are some key ways to identify torticollis:

  1. Head is tilted to one side over the other
  2. Preferring one side over the other, such as choosing one breast during feeding
  3. Avoidance in looking in one direction
  4. Development of a flat area on the side they look towards


Banishing Torticollis

Don’t be fooled. A child shouldn’t be expected to outgrow torticollis without the proper care. When torticollis is left untreated, this can become a big problem long term. Children who do not seek treatment are at risk for plagiocephaly (flattening of the bone in the skull), limits to shoulder movement, and issues with the spine. Nobody wants to encounter these outcomes, but we can definitely take measures to ease symptoms. Here are tips to try at home:

  • Position your baby to look away from their surroundings in their crib. Babies want to look around their environment. This will encourage them to use their muscles to turn. Note: Be sure to lay them on their back to help prevent SIDs!
  • Encourage your baby to turn their neck. You can draw their favorite toy into their view and move it around so they will want to turn their neck
  • Increase amount for tummy time as this helps build neck and shoulder muscles
  • Learn stretching techniques that your physical therapist taught you to help loosen the muscle

Ultimately, we encourage you to schedule an evaluation with our team of pediatric physical therapists as soon as possible. They can ensure that your baby is recovering and receiving the care that they need to avoid long term issues.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in September 2018 and has been updated to reflect the most up-to-date information for parents and caregivers.