Premature Baby Has Congenital Torticollis? Try These Simple Stretches

Congenital Torticollis

This is a fairly common condition that affects 1 out of every 250 babies born in the United States. If your baby has this condition you will notice that she keeps her face turned toward one side of her body more than the other. In addition, her head will tilt or bend to the opposite side. Parents of infants with this condition have also reported that they were able to feel a small but noticeable lump in the center of the Sternocleidomastoid Muscle (SCM) on the side of the baby’s neck. The SCM is a large rope-like muscle that begins on the scapula and ends on the base of the skull. This muscle is responsible for tilting and rotating the head.

How is Congenital Torticollis discovered?

Congenital Torticollis is usually found during a routine examination by the baby’s pediatrician within the first month or two after the baby’s birth. Most cases of Congenital Torticollis are subtle and often go unnoticed by parents who may not know what to look for. Once your doctor has ordered X-rays to confirm the diagnosis, he may also recommend that your baby receive physical therapy.It’s important to begin treatment as soon as possible for this condition because if left untreated Torticollis could cause your baby to develop Plagiocephaly (Flat Head Syndrome), a condition that causes the back or side of baby’s head to become flattened due to prolonged pressure on the same part of the skull. Premature babies are especially susceptible to Plagiocephaly because their skulls are softer than the skulls of full term babies.

How is Congenital Torticollis treated?

This condition may be corrected using simple stretches and positioning at home. In addition, Torticollis may be resolved by turning your baby’s face to the opposite side each time you put her to sleep.

1. The “Head Turning” neck stretch

  • Put your baby to lie on her back on the couch with her head close to your body.
  • Hold a brightly colored toy about 4-6″ in front of her face and move it from side to side so that she has to turn her head to track the toy.
  • As your baby turns her head to look at the toy, move the toy down to the surface of the couch so that she has to turn her head in the opposite direction from the side that she normally keeps her head turned toward.
  • Put your hand on the side of her head to keep her head turned towards her non-favorite side for as long as she can tolerate it.
  • Rub her tummy and talk to her to keep her calm during this exercise.

2. Football Stretch (For Right Side Torticollis)

  • Hold your baby with her back against your chest.
  • Tilt her body so that she is leaning at a 45 degree angle with her head towards your right arm.
  • Slide your left arm between her legs and up across her chest and hold down her right shoulder with your left hand.
  • Use your right hand on the right side of her head and gently tilt her head sideways until her left ear touches the top of her left shoulder.
  • You are now stretching the right Sternocleidomastoid muscle.
  • If your baby has left side torticollis reverse the above directions to stretch the left Sternocleidomastoid muscle.

3. Stretching while bottle-feeding (Right Side Torticollis)

  • If your baby has right side Torticollis then she would have difficulty turning her head toward her right side.
  • Hold baby in your left arm and begin feeding her with a bottle.
  • When she is feeding comfortably remove the nipple from her mouth.
  • Touch the nipple to the right side of her mouth and cue her to turn her head to the right to get the nipple back into her mouth.
  • Repeat this process of removing the nipple from her mouth and coaxing her to head to the right side to get the nipple back into her mouth until her head has turned all the way to the right side.
  • Complete her feeding with her head turned all the way to the right side and this will stretch her right SCM muscle.

This condition should gradually resolve itself if you stretch your baby’s tight neck muscles 4-5 times every day.