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What Is Torticollis In Babies, And How Is It Treated? Because It's Literally A Pain In The Neck

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If your baby appears to have a constant head tilt, then your pediatrician may diagnose the condition as torticollis. So what is torticollis in babies, and how is it typically treated? For the most part, this condition can be cured in a matter of weeks with some simple exercises.

In a literal way, this condition is a pain in the neck for your baby. "Torticollis is the tightening of neck muscles that result in babies preferring to tilt their heads to the side," as pediatrician Natasha Burgert, MD, FAAP, tells Romper. In fact, the word torticollis comes from Latin words that mean "twisted neck," according to the Boston Children's Hospital. Sometimes known as wryneck, this is a common condition in babies. Infants may be born with torticollis, or develop it later on, as further explained by the Boston Children's Hospital.

So how can a tiny baby develop issues with the neck muscles? In infants, congenital muscular torticollis (CMT) is the most common cause of this condition. CMT is present at birth, and it results from the shortening and scarring of a muscle on the side of the neck, as explained in eMedicineHealth. Signs of torticollis typically show up when the baby is around two months of age, and torticollis is more likely to develop in babies who have experienced a breech or difficult delivery, according to the Pediatric Orthopaedic Society Of North America (POSNA). It can also occur in babies who had relatively uncomplicated deliveries as well.

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If there's an upside to this condition, it's the fact that signs of torticollis in babies are easy to spot. "Unlike many health conditions that develop silently inside the body, torticollis is easy to see from the outside. You can recognize it when your child’s head persistently tilts to one side," according to the Boston Children's Hospital. When you bring your baby in for a checkup, the physician will check for additional signs of the condition as well. "As a pediatrician, a significant flat spot on one side of the head can be a clue," says Dr. Burgert. Because stiff neck muscles make it difficult for the baby to move, their head may develop a flat spot, also known as deformational plagiocephaly, according to the Stanford Children's Hospital.

Thankfully, the condition often responds well to treatment. "Most torticollis can be successfully treated with physical therapy and home-based exercises that help baby stretch the tight neck muscle," says Dr. Burgert. In most cases, a little physical therapy will have your baby's neck working good as new. If the condition does not improve with these stretching exercises, then your baby may be a candidate for muscle-release surgery, which typically improves the most persistent cases of torticollis, as explained in KidsHealth. The surgical option is relatively rare, though, because most babies respond well to the stretching exercises.

In most cases, torticollis in babies is a common condition that's easily treated with some physical therapy exercises. In time, your baby's neck muscles will become relaxed enough to allow a fuller range of motion.