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Torticollis in Babies and Adults

Torticollis is a neck problem that can affect both babies and adults. In both cases, it is typically caused by a tight muscle in the front and side of the neck. This muscle’s job is to tilt the head one way and rotate the other, so when it spasms, this is the position the head is held in.

Torticollis position

Congenital Infant Torticollis

Babies can be born with torticollis, but it may not be obvious until they develop some neck strength. Early signs can include:

  1. a tendency to sleep with their head turned one way

  2. preference for the toys on one side of their baby seat or baby gym

  3. fussiness when feeding on one side (whether bottle or breastfeeding)

SCM muscle in torticollis

It can be hard to recognise the signs in your own baby. Looking back at photos for a favoured neck position can help to identify a pattern. You can also ask your health visitor if they think your baby might have torticollis.

As your baby strengthens their neck, and can hold their head up on their own, the position becomes more obvious. The muscle may also look more prominent. When you turn your head to one side, a long muscle sticks out at the front of the neck. This is the muscle that spasms in torticollis.

Sometimes the cause is related to positioning in the womb. In these cases, treating the muscle could be all that is required. Other times, it might be related to something current, like plagiocephaly– a flat spot on the head. This is normally no cause for alarm, but it should be assessed by your GP for red flags. When given the all clear, your paediatric osteopath can help to manage the factors that play into the condition. Torticollis and plagiocephaly can go hand in hand.

Other Infant Torticollis

Sometimes the problem does not develop until after birth. It can be difficult to differentiate when a case starts in the first few weeks of life rather than at birth. Your osteopath can examine your baby and refer on if appropriate.

Adult Torticollis

In adults, the problem is typically short lived, or sometimes self resolving. Some people call it “wry neck”. Mild cases might be described as a “cricked neck”, which you might wake up with for no apparent reason. More severe cases can be quite painful, with limited movement affecting day to day function. Driving can become dangerous if you are no longer able to check your blind spot, so it becomes a relatively urgent problem.

Your osteopath can help with problems of tight muscles, both working on the muscle and associated tissues, and giving you exercises to help. If you keep waking up to a cricked neck, there may be a problem with your sleeping position. It can be hard to change, but you might find that with your osteopath’s advice about pillows, you can start to prevent episodes. Sometimes muscles react if they are overworked. For the neck, this could be as a result of joint instability or a demanding posture. Instability could be associated with hypermobility syndromes or conditions like rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Postures in which your head is positioned forward asks a lot of the neck muscles. We can help with the symptoms of RA, and give you management strategies for mobility or postural issues.


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