Have you ever heard the term ‘wry neck’, but not known what it means? Wry neck, or torticollis, which literally means ‘twisted neck’ is a common condition in newborn babies, and involves spasm and shortening of the neck muscles, most commonly the sternocleidomastoid (SCM). It is believed that this condition can occur in infants due to positioning in the womb, for example, in the breech position, whereby the neck is restricted and the muscles tighten as a result, pulling or twisting the head to one side. It can also occur as a result of intervention during labour, such as forceps or vacuum deliveries, where the head and neck may need to be manoeuvred to facilitate birth. Torticollis may be obvious from birth, but it can also develop over several months, and may not be noticeable until it interferes with a baby’s normal head movement.
Signs to look for include:
- Tilting of the head to one side, due to inability to move comfortably to the other
- Difficulty breastfeeding on one side, or preferring only one breast
- Obvious discomfort or frustration when trying to turn the head to one side
- Always sleeping with the head turned to the same side
- Painless swelling or lump on one side of the neck
Torticollis can resolve on it’s own over time, but it often becomes a problem for feeding and sleeping, which are usually the most troublesome areas for parents to deal with as it is! If a baby is continually turning their head to one side they can also develop a flat spot on their skull, called plagiocephaly, which can persist as the bones grow and develop, and may need further intervention in the form of a helmet.
So what can we do about it? Osteopathic treatment may be beneficial for babies with torticollis, as it is a gentle way to improve neck movement and function. An osteopath will examine your baby to find the problem areas in their neck, head, back, ribs and pelvis, and apply gentle techniques to help release areas of tension and restore movement. They may also give you some home advice and simple exercises to encourage further improvement. Torticollis can take several sessions over a few weeks or even months to fully resolve, and in the rare cases it doesn’t, there are further avenues to explore, which your osteopath will discuss with you.
So if you are concerned your baby might have torticollis, or you just want to have them checked over, bring them in to see us at Beyond!