Torticollis, also known as "wry neck" or "twisted neck," is a disability or condition you are probably familiar with. Anyone can experience it temporarily, such as when a bad night's sleep puts a strain on your neck. In these cases, it usually disappears very quickly. However, torticollis can also arise in infants as a congenital condition (from birth), and while this is usually not a serious condition either, it is still very important that your child receives a proper diagnosis and treatment right away. If recognized and treated early, the condition usually disappears in less than a year with no long-term effects.
Unfortunately, there have been cases where medical neglect has caused such otherwise harmless cases of infant torticollis to become much more serious problems. In these cases, doctors may either neglect to diagnose or recommend proper treatment for a child when they are still very young and it is easiest to treat - sometimes even repeatedly refusing to do despite the insistence of the child's parents. Because such negligence can lead to infant torticollis becoming a much more serious condition, parents seeking legal redress for medical malpractice in such instances can attain significant monetary compensation with effective legal representation.
In addition, there have also been instances where incorrect procedures used during your baby's delivery process can result in the acquisition of torticollis. In such cases, you may also be able to successfully use legal representation to pursue compensation for the hospital's or physician's negligence which was responsible for causing the torticollis.
If you believe your child's infant torticollis has worsened or developed as a result of medical neglect, you should reach out to our law firm or another birth injury law firm.
Infant torticollis is the twisting of a baby's neck caused by a tight neck muscle. This muscle - the sternocleidomastoid - runs down both sides of the neck from behind the ears to the collarbone, and its function is to turn and tilt the neck. If this muscle is strained, these kinds of actions may be difficult for your child to do, and you will most likely notice this by the appearance of their neck and/or the way they move and rest their head on a daily basis.
The possible causes of infant torticollis are numerous, but they are almost all linked to circumstances of the baby's delivery or their development in the womb. Some of these possible causes during pregnancy include:
- The position of the baby's head
- A developmental problem with the neck muscle
- Spine misalignment
- Cramping creating additional pressure
Some of the possible causes during delivery include:
- Damage to the neck muscle
- Breech deliveries (when a baby is born bottom first instead of head first)
- The use of forceps or vacuum devices
- Improper or forceful pulling
Torticollis, whether acquired or congenital, is only rarely hereditary. The only case in which it might be would be if it is caused by some underlying hereditary issue, such as hereditary muscle aplasia or other conditions harming the nervous system or muscles.
If you suspect your child may have developed torticollis, you have probably noticed some of these signs already. These are the main ones to look for:
- Turning or tilting head more to one side than the other
- Difficulty turning head in general
- Difficulty breastfeeding on one side or only breastfeeding on one side
- Small neck bump or "knot" in tight neck muscle
- Prefers looking at you over their shoulder instead of turning to follow with their eyes
- One shoulder higher up on their body
- An awkward chin position
In addition to these signs, some of the symptoms which can arise from the condition include:
- Headaches and head tremors
- Neck pain, muscle stiffness, and swelling
- Flat head on one or both sides or the back of their head (positional plagiocephaly)
A simple examination conducted by a pediatrician is usually enough to diagnose infant torticollis, as its physical signs and symptoms are fairly distinct and easy to detect. It is crucial that you have your baby tested as soon as you believe there may be an issue, as the condition is significantly easier to treat if it is detected earlier.
However, your child's pediatrician may also want to perform additional tests such as an x-ray, ultrasound, or MRI in order to rule out other issues (such as hip dysplasia), determine whether there is a more serious underlying issue, or provide additional confirmation of their diagnosis.
It is strongly recommended that if you believe your baby has torticollis, you should visit a doctor to confirm the diagnosis, conduct additional tests if needed, and ensure the proper treatment for your child.
When you visit the pediatrician for your baby's diagnosis, they should provide you with a clear set of instructions. Depending on the severity of your child's condition, they might suggest a dedicated physical therapist - whom you could either visit regularly or have come to your residence.
Some of the best techniques and recommendations include:
- Increasing tummy time (uses neck muscles to reduce tightness) for 30 minutes, 3 times a day
- Stretching techniques - you can learn these from a pediatric physical therapist, and should do them several times a day
- In strollers, seats, and swings, posture should be controlled using blankets or a U-shaped neck pillow to hold the neck in a neutral position
- Reducing time spent in a single position - any time off their back is good!
- Place your baby in their crib so that they need to turn their chin the non-preferred way to see the room
- Place toys or other objects in such a way so that your baby has to turn their head to see or play with them
In more severe cases, your child's pediatrician may recommend medication as part of the treatment, and in the most extreme cases, muscle-release surgery could be needed as well.
- Thoughts from the Cleveland Clinic on relieving torticollis
Infant torticollis usually goes away by the time your child is one year old. However, its duration can be somewhat variable - your baby's neck could take up to six months to heal, a year, or even longer. If it takes more than a year to heal despite consistent, ongoing treatment, there may be another underlying cause. If the condition is not getting better with time, it is important that you revisit and consult with your child's pediatrician.