Wry Neck (Torticollis)

What is Torticollis (Wry Neck)?

Torticollis (also called Wry Neck) is a condition in which the baby’s head is tilted. The chin points to one shoulder, while the head tilts toward the opposite shoulder.

Congenital torticollis occurs when the neck muscle running up and toward the back of the baby’s neck (sternocleidomastoid muscle) is shortened. The condition may:

  • Be present soon after birth due to scar tissue and tightness of the muscle on one side of the neck
  • Occur later in childhood

Pain can indicate an infection or displacement of the joints in the upper neck. Sometimes congenital torticollis is caused by a bone problem in the neck portion of the spine (cervical spine), known as a congenital malformation of the cervical spine.

The affected baby will have difficulty turning the head to the opposite side and may not be able to move his or her head as well as other babies.  A lump may also be noticed in the baby’s neck muscle. The baby may have flattening of head and face due to his or her preference of head position. The neck muscle (sternocleidomastoid) may be tight.

Treatment involves stretching the baby’s tight neck muscle. A physiotherapist will demonstrate how to do the exercises safely. Other ways to naturally stretch the affected neck is to do things that make the baby rotate the chin toward the shoulder of the affected side, for example:

  • Hold the child in a way that makes him or her rotate the chin to the correct position during feeding
  • Place the crib so that the child turns his or her chin the correct way to see the room
  • Place toys and other objects in such a way that the baby has to turn his or her head to see them and play with them

If the condition does not improve after a few months of stretching, surgery may be necessary to stretch or lengthen the neck muscle.

Complications include:

  • Asymmetry of the head
  • Contracture (shortening) of the neck muscle
  • Flat head

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