What is Torticollis?
The word torticollis literally means “twisted neck”. There are typically two types of this condition – congenital, meaning present at birth, and acquired, meaning an incident or accident causes it. For some children, torticollis happens in the womb in the weeks before birth where the head and neck are positioned at an odd angle. Other children are born with the condition because of difficulties during delivery, a decreased blood supply to the neck muscles, muscular fibrosis or congenital spine anomalies. Even if a child is born with healthy head and neck positioning, infants sometimes develop torticollis when they spend too much time laying on their back, sitting in car seats, swings, bouncers, or strollers, or laying on play mats.
While the majority of people who experience torticollis are infants or children, anyone can experience the neck pain and limited range of motion associated with it. A muscle or nervous system injury can suddenly make it difficult to straighten your neck or position your head properly. This type of injury may be associated with car accidents, extended illnesses or other trauma.
Typical Torticollis Treatment
For many adults, torticollis will resolve itself on its own within a few days. However, it is vital to seek treatment on behalf of infants or children who are experiencing this type of head or neck positioning. If left too long without intervention, children may experience permanent disability due to shortening neck muscles. One of the first treatments doctors recommend are stretching exercises designed to lengthen and strengthen the neck muscles holding the head in the incorrect position. 80 percent of all children respond well to this type of treatment plan and do not experience any lasting effects. If these non-invasive treatments do not work, doctors will recommend surgery to lengthen short muscles and return the child’s head to a normal position. Once completed, the child may need physical therapy to strengthen their neck muscles and prevent the problem from recurring.
How Physical Therapy Treats Torticollis
Physical therapy services go beyond post-surgical care. While they are vital to someone who has been through a surgical procedure, they are also designed to increase range of motion, decrease muscle tightness and strengthen gross and fine motor skills that are needed for proper neck and head positioning. A physical therapist will first conduct an assessment to test your (or your child’s) range of motion and evaluate any other conditions that often accompany torticollis. These may include plagiocephaly (abnormal head shape), spine problems, or a misalignment of the hip joint (hip displaysia). Once the evaluation is complete, the physical therapist will discuss their findings and a potential treatment plan.
Physical therapy may include performing stretching exercises both in the office and at home to increase your range of motion and strengthen your neck muscles. These may include passive stretches which you perform and hold as well as active stretches of the neck and shoulder muscles designed to strengthen muscles that are used to maintain good posture. Even in infants who do not seem to be strong enough to reliably hold their own head, these stretches and exercises can correct the problem quickly. In fact, early intervention for torticollis often provides the best results.
If you or your child is experiencing painful, incorrect positioning of the head or neck, Contact Us Today at Ried Physical Therapy to request a free pain consult. Our physical therapy staff can evaluate you or your little one and provide you with a customized treatment plan designed to treat your torticollis, leaving you pain-free and moving well.