HELPFUL ARTICLE

What Is Torticollis?

By Dr. Tony Ebel

With the rapid and significant rise in birth intervention and birth trauma, we see more and more cases of torticollis (wryneck) in our PX Docs clinic each and every year. Unfortunately for most parents, traditional medicine has not updated their understanding of what’s causing it and how to best take care of it for some time, leaving most families with only traditional, painful treatment options like stretching and physical therapy. 

Fortunately, however, there is a huge shift happening in this generation of parents where they are seeking out Pediatric Chiropractic more often and earlier than ever before! These parents and families are seeing incredible results with a more gentle, effective, long-lasting approach to their child’s torticollis. 

what is torticollis?

Torticollis in an infant is a stiff, stuck, and twisted neck where the child’s head is continually bent to one side, making it difficult to turn and rotate their head and neck in both directions. 

While more significant cases are easy to spot by both parents and providers, it’s been our experience that most cases of torticollis are easily overlooked and missed by standard pediatricians. Additionally, too often parents are told to just “watch and wait” and that they’ll “grow out of it” over time. 

WHAT ARE THE SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF TORTICOLLIS?

While torticollis in an older child or adult is most likely going to be accompanied by pain and headaches, for an infant the signs and symptoms of torticollis look like the following: 

  • Frequent bouts of crying, irritability, and colic 
  • Difficulty latching, nursing, and breastfeeding 
  • Infantile reflux and digestive problems 
  • Baby’s head tilt to one side with the chin tilted to the other side 
  • Limited range of motion and ability to move their neck 
  • Taking the same position, posture, and head tilt every time they are in the car seat or sleeping 
  • Difficulty sleeping 
  • Swollen and spastic neck muscle 
  • Small pea-sized lump in one of the baby’s neck muscles
  • Uneven asymmetrical facial features
  • Increased likelihood of also having plagiocephaly and gross motor delays 

What causes torticollis in infants?

Torticollis is diagnosed medically as congenital if it is caused by abnormal positioning of the fetus while still in the womb, which is more common with things such as breech positioning or lowered amniotic fluid. It will also be diagnosed as congenital torticollis if caused by a genetic condition such as Klippel-Feil syndrome or other genetic disorders affecting the muscular system. 

But the most common form of torticollis is acquired, and the most common cause is birth trauma. The amount of physical strain, tension, and pulling placed on a baby’s head and neck during birth interventions such as forceps delivery, vacuum extraction, and C-section is significant and many times leaves the child with a significant subluxation that then contributes to the torticollis. 

Subluxation has three (3) main components: 

  1. Misalignment and abnormal positioning of the spinal vertebra 
  2. Fixation and reduced range of motion in the segment and region of the subluxation 
  3. Neurological interference and imbalance caused by reduced amounts of proprioception and increased amounts of nociception 

Simply put, the more severe and apparent the torticollis and its related misalignment and fixation, the more severe the subluxation patterns likely are for the child. 

Care options for torticollis

The first thing we’d encourage parents to do if they’re concerned their child may have torticollis is to not just rely on their pediatrician or medical doctor’s exam findings. Of course, pediatricians are trained to perform physical exams in such a way as to spot neuromuscular challenges like torticollis, but they don’t have nearly the experience or detailed training in those systems as a Pediatric Chiropractor or Physical Therapist would. 

If the pediatrician does spot torticollis for a child, they most likely will make a referral to a PT who then will show the parents a few positioning and stretching exercises they can do at home to try and help alleviate the torticollis. However, most parents report to us that those stretches and exercises are extremely painful for the child and almost tend to aggravate the condition because it leaves the child in a sustained state of fight-or-flight tension, something known as dysautonomia. 

The Pediatric Chiropractic approach to caring for torticollis is so often the one parents feel makes the most sense, and it can be summarized in these three (3) simple and safe steps: 

  1. Find and locate the exact location and severity of the subluxation(s) 
  2. Make safe and gentle, neuro-tonal adjustments to relieve the tension and remove the subluxation(s) 
  3. Encourage parents to watch closely for a recurrence of the torticollis around growth spurts, teething, colds, illnesses, or other stressful events the child may experience 

Additionally, parents routinely report that when they put Pediatric Chiropractic as the foundation and first choice for their child’s torticollis, it then makes all the physical therapy stretches and positioning work easier and far more effective! As PX Docs, we love nothing more than working in conjunction with your child’s therapy team for maximum results! 

One of the real keys to taking care of torticollis is to not just use positioning and range of motion testing as the only clinical criteria for resolving the condition. As Pediatric Chiropractors we routinely examine and evaluate kids ages 5 and up who had torticollis as an infant, did traditional medical and therapy treatment only, and still have retained torticollis all those years later that is easily found on our exam and INSiGHT Scans neurological evaluation. 

You can learn more about the PX Docs Clinical Process and INSiGHT Scans here

It’s very important for the long-term health and neurodevelopment of your child to get the torticollis fully resolved before releasing them into wellness care, so don’t be surprised if your child’s initial care plan spans a few months of consistent care. If that subluxation and resultant dysautonomia is left in there even at mild to moderate levels, it can begin to contribute to things such as Gross Motor Delays, Fine Motor Challenges, Sensory Integration Disorder and ADHD later on in life. 

Additionally, kids who have unresolved torticollis are going to be more susceptible to ear infections and other respiratory infections like croup, chronic cough, and even RSV since the torticollis and subluxations limit the body’s ability to drain the fluid from the ears and move mucus and secretions through the respiratory system. 

FIND YOUR LOCAL PX DOC TODAY

In many cases, parents can start to see results and see their child experience relief in just a few visits! Overall it generally takes a few weeks or even a few months (as discussed above) to get full resolution of the torticollis, and your trained and ready PX Doc will sit down with you at what’s called the Report of Findings visit to show and discuss your child’s exact, personalized care plan. 

There is no “cookie cutter” approach to torticollis from our PX Docs Network, where each child gets the same stretches and positioning exercises. The examination and scan process is crucial to making sure we find the exact root cause of your child’s challenges, and make just the right adjustments to get things taken care of! 

To find your local PX Doctor, simply head over to our Directory Page and plug in your city and state or zip code, and reach out to schedule your consultation and examination today! 

Dr. Tony Ebel, DC, CACCP, CCWP

Certified Wellness + Pediatric Chiropractor

Challenges Covered: Birth Trauma | Torticollis

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