Torticollis is not a new condition, but it is one that has been mentioned a lot recently. It’s a muscle condition that messes with the way baby’s neck and head are positioned. It’s uncomfortable and can be painful for babies of all ages. Adults can experience it too, like after a restless night that twinges their neck muscles.
Some babies wind up with flat spots from their sternocleidomastoid (SCM) pulling their heads one way or the other. They might become colicky, cry a lot, or show that they’re in pain. Their chin might tilt, and for babies born with the condition, it can make their faces asymmetrical.
Torticollis, also called “wry neck,” can either be present when a baby is born or it can develop because of baby’s experiences outside the womb. Sometimes the cause is entirely unknown, but other times, there’s a simple explanation for this strange disorder. At times it’s an ongoing problem, and others, it comes in recurring waves that scare parents!
So what the heck is causing so many more babies to suffer from this twisted neck condition? Here are just 15 of the many reasons why more babies are suffering from torticollis than ever before.
15 The Way It Was On The Inside
We know baby is all squished up in mom’s womb, since space can get tight. Babies take on a bunch of different positions to stay comfy in there, often to mom’s dismay. But with all this wiggle room for acrobatics, many babies still end up in positions that mess with the way their bodies develop. Some babies develop torticollis in utero, because of the way their necks are contorted to fit in mom’s belly.
A baby that stays in one position or who has pushed into a spot where his neck is crooked, can mess with his sternocleidomastoid (SCM). That’s the muscle that torticollis strains, and it’s a long nine months for baby when that muscle is acting up. Once he’s on the outside, it can be hard to straighten the muscle out, and torticollis presents itself.
14 Abnormal Muscle Development Early On
Another way babies end up with torticollis in utero is because of genetics, and other unknown factors. Sometimes babies are just born with torticollis, even though ultrasounds don’t show them in uncomfortable or squished positions on the inside. Early muscle development can get sidetracked, and the muscle at the base of the skull doesn’t form properly. A shortened or overworked muscle will present in torticollis when the baby has exited the womb.
The positive thing is, it’s not mom’s fault at all if her baby is born with torticollis. There isn’t a straightforward explanation for most cases of torticollis that’s present at birth, but doctors can tell if your baby’s SCM muscle is properly developed or not, which might hint at a genetic explanation. Thankfully, the fact that baby has torticollis at birth isn’t always associated with other genetic conditions, although it is a possibility.
13 Getting Twisted On The Way Out
Labor isn’t just a lot of work for mom, it’s hard on baby too. Between her own body’s signals and mom’s squishing her into the right size to fit out the birth canal, baby has a lot of stressors. Sometimes babies strain muscles on the way through the birth canal, or are in an awkward position as they make their descent. Being stuck in the birth canal on the way out can mess with more than just baby’s muscles, so it’s not surprising that torticollis is a possibility.
Sometimes torticollis resolves after birth with stretches, and other times it can require heavier interventions. Birth trauma that results in torticollis can also affect mom’s recovery, especially if the final stages of labor were difficult. Mom and baby should both be checked out to ensure a healthy recovery.
12 Car Seat Sitting Not Optimal
If your infant often falls asleep in her car seat, and her head slips to one side, she could develop acquired torticollis. Positioning can stress the muscles in the neck and surrounding tissues, so if baby often falls asleep slumped over, that could present a problem. Also, some babies naturally have a tendency to lean to one side when sleeping because of an already compromised neck muscle. Torticollis can get worse if baby is left to flop to one side or the other, and if stretches or therapy aren’t applied.
The best solution for keeping baby’s head from flopping is to use the head supports that come with your car seat, since they’re made to meet safety standards in conjunction with the specific car seat. This way, baby has gentle support when she falls asleep.
11 Head Supports Give Baby A Crick In The Neck
While head supports can be helpful for keeping baby straight in his car seat, using the wrong ones can cause torticollis to develop and even make it worse. A common trick is to use rolled up receiving blankets as head supports. Once rolled, parents place them against baby’s head, but not behind, to keep them from lolling from side to side. The problem with this is if the blankets aren’t the same size or thickness. Imagine rolling a receiving blanket on one side, and a quilt on the other!
The same problem occurs with commercially distributed head supports. If there’s more stuffing on one side than the other, it might cause baby to be positioned more awkwardly than if there wasn’t a support there at all! Keep an eye on baby when using any soft head supports and check to make sure they’re not causing any weird neck movement.
10 Need More Tummy Time
Does your baby spend a lot of time lying on his or her back? Newborns and younger infants tend to make the rotation from car seat, to stroller, to crib, to play mat, all lying flat on their backs. Traditionally, tummy time was said to strengthen neck muscles and give baby a chance to work their upper bodies as well. For babies who don’t get enough time on their tummies, torticollis can develop as a result. If baby’s only choice is to look left or right, they might start to favor the angle with the best view.
Lack of tummy time can also cause babies to develop plagiocephaly, which means the back of their head becomes flattened. You’ve probably seen babies wearing cranial helmets to help correct this problem, but it can also accompany torticollis.
9 Daily Living Means Muscles Work Hard
If you think about the way babies come into the world, it makes sense that they’re made to be flexible! That same flexibility leaves them open to muscle and even bone injury, since it’s easy to mishandle them when they’re small. Plus, even young infants often work themselves into awkward positions, especially when they’re trying to mimic their womb rental!
Daily wear and tear on adult bodies is even more pronounced, but not so noticeable in babies. Torticollis can sometimes be the result of normal wear and tear adding up in a baby’s muscles and spine, until it finally presents in a visible pull to one side. Regular chiropractic care can help adults keep their spines aligned, and it’s beneficial for infants and newborns, too. Find a gentle provider that you trust, and get baby on track to a healthy bone and muscular system!
8 Lip And Tongue Tie Conditions
It sort of seems like lip and tongue ties, or ankyloglossia, have emerged recently as the diagnosis to blame every ailment on. From difficulties nursing to causing speech issues, lip and tongue ties can contribute to plenty of oral challenges in newborns, older children, and even adults. A genetic issue called MTHFR makes baby more likely to have a lip or tongue tie, which is also linked to torticollis. These two issues are both tissue and muscle related.
We already know that all of our muscles are connected, but the SCM, the muscle that links the sternum and clavicle, is part of an important link. When the muscles around a baby’s neck and face are challenged, that can cause a number of oral problems, so lip and/or tongue tie can be another symptom of underlying SCM damage.
7 Vision Problems Have Baby Seeing Torticollis
Vision problems can cause babies to exhibit symptoms of torticollis, without any underlying conditions present. If baby has a hard time seeing, he might cock his head one way to improve his vision. This is more common with older infants, but newborns who are interested in their surroundings can wobble their heads in the right direction, too.
Ocular torticollis causes abnormal head posture, which might not be obvious in young infants. After all, they will always look toward what is most fascinating, and as new moms, we might be too enamored to notice that they’re always looking in the same direction. Ocular torticollis can be improved with physical therapy and stretches, but baby’s vision needs to be addressed as well, to prevent more debilitating vision issues in the long run.
6 Not Enough Blood Circulating
This explanation for torticollis can also fall into the birth trauma category, since it can result from blood flow being compromised during delivery. It can also happen much the way it happens for adults. Think of when your foot falls asleep when you’ve had your legs crossed for a long time, or when you wake up in the morning with your arm under your head and it’s painful to move!
The same can happen for babies, when decreased blood flow impacts the muscle in the neck and the surrounding tissues. Muscle tissue can become scarred if there isn’t enough blood flowing to it, and the muscle will become shortened. Oddly enough, up to 75% of cases of torticollis resulting from lack of blood flow affect the right side of baby’s neck.
5 Doctors Not So Gentle With C-Section Babies
We’ve all seen photos of the way doctors pull babies out of their moms’ C-section incision. Sometimes it’s almost by the head, other times it’s by the bottom or the legs. While doctors seem pretty relaxed about slipping baby out any way he’ll come, it can result in torticollis in the newborn. If the doctor is too rough with baby, or even just handles him wrong by accident, it can stress the sternocleidomastoid and leave baby with a crook in his neck.
While it doesn’t always happen with babies born via C-section, it is more common in them than in infants born vaginally without birth trauma. What sucks about dealing with infant torticollis directly after her C-section is mom is likely stressed already, plus she has to deal with her incision healing at the same time.
4 Neck Damage In Early Months
Every new mom’s worst nightmare is having a car accident on the way home from the hospital. Even if you’ve arrived home safely, there are still doctor’s appointments for your newborn, plus shopping to do and running around the older kids. There’s no real way to avoid driving, as scary as it is to get on the road with a newborn.
But in the event of an accident, no matter how safely your infant is buckled in, there is always the possibility of muscle injury. Since babies have little head control, effects of a car accident can cause their heads to flop around. Car accidents can cause neck damage to little babies, and sometimes this can result in acquired torticollis. The same can happen if adults aren’t handling baby carefully, though that’s much less likely except in cases of intentional abuse.
3 Viral Infections Mess With Muscles
Of course, we all stress about our new babies (and all our kids, really) getting sick, because even seemingly harmless diseases can cause them to get very ill. Even with a mild infection, if baby catches something viral, it can cause torticollis. While you might fear worse than muscle strain, babies can recover from slight illnesses like mild viral infections without any other symptoms. Torticollis may be the only lasting mark of an infection, but it’s important to have it addressed so that it doesn’t get worse.
Respiratory infections and infections in the neck area can also cause babies to develop torticollis. Since all our systems are connected, it’s not a huge leap from soft tissue infection to muscle problems, resulting in torticollis. Once a viral infection passes, torticollis can remain, and will require treatment.
2 Reflux Works The Muscles
Babies who suffer from GERD, gastroesophageal reflux disease, tend to spit up a lot and be uncomfortable after eating. There are plenty of products on the market meant to help with baby’s positioning and reduce the effects of GERD. Symptoms range from mild spitting up to severe reflux that induces vomiting. Parents of babies with GERD know how hard it is to deal with baby’s discomfort and lack of sleep.
While reflux causes spasms of the esophagus, it also affects the surrounding areas of the head and neck. Babies with reflux don’t just deal with the unpleasantness of regular vomiting, they also deal with muscles tensing and spasming as a result. There are many solutions for GERD, from positioning devices to surgery, but treating torticollis can help babies be more comfortable, since stretches and therapy can loosen up their tensed muscles.
1 Medications Cause Muscle Reactions
Some drugs can cause torticollis, as a direct side effect of the medication. Most babies’ torticollis can’t be blamed on drug reactions, especially when they’ve only been administered minor pain-relieving drugs, for example. Drugs that commonly result in dystonic reactions are anti-depressants, some anesthetics, and high blood pressure medications.
Hopefully, your baby doesn’t have a need for these types of medications. Luckily, if they do experience a reaction to these types of medications, dystonic reactions can be treated. Reversing the dystonic reaction should relieve the torticollis, since the reaction itself presents as a sort of freezing of the neck. Since this is a rarer cause of torticollis symptoms, it’s important to tell your baby’s doctor if he’s on any of the above mentioned medications. It’s vital to know the cause of torticollis, so that the individual causes can be treated.