What is Torticollis?

Torticollis means "twisted neck," and if a child has this condition, his/her head will be tilted to one side while the chin is turned to the other side. It's also sometimes called wryneck. While it may look painful, it usually isn't. When a baby is born with the condition, it's called congenital torticollis. (There's also a condition called acquired torticollis that can develop at a later time. In some cases of acquired torticollis, the chin may be turned to the same side as the head.) About 1 in 250 infants are born with torticollis. (Ten to 20 percent of babies with torticollis also have hip dysplasia, in which the hip joint is malformed.) What causes congenital torticollis? Congenital torticollis is most often due to tightness in the muscle that connects the breastbone and the collarbone to the skull. (It's called the sternocleidomastoid muscle). This is called congenital muscular torticollis. This tightness might have developed because of the way your baby was positioned in the uterus (with the head tilted to one side) or because the muscles were damaged during delivery.


Is it serious? Find out fast Much less commonly, congenital torticollis is caused by abnormalities in the bones of the neck (the cervical vertebrae). The bones may be abnormally formed, stuck together (fused), or a combination of both. This condition is known as Klippel-Feil syndrome. It's important to know whether Klippel-Feil is what's causing a baby's neck problem because many babies with this syndrome have other problems, especially with hearing and the kidneys. Also, the stretching exercises recommended for muscular torticollis are not only ineffective but potentially dangerous for a child with Klippel-Feil syndrome. In rare cases, congenital torticollis may be inherited. Or it may be the result of a more serious underlying condition, such as a brain or spinal cord tumor that damages the nervous system or muscles.

How will I know if my baby has torticollis? You'll probably notice that your baby holds his/her head to one side and has limited neck movement. Another telltale sign is a small bump on the side of his/her neck. Congenital muscular torticollis is usually diagnosed within the first two months of a baby's life. Even if parents don't spot it, a pediatrician will. Babies with torticollis may also develop positional plagiocephaly (asymmetrical head shape) because they'll often sleep with their head turned to the side.