Congenital and Acquired Torticollis

At Children's Health℠, we see more children with congenital and acquired torticollis than almost any other hospital in our region. Our team includes world-class doctors and physical therapists who specialize in treating children with torticollis and many other conditions. This gives us the experience and expertise to help your child overcome this condition and go on to a happy, healthy childhood.

What is Congenital and Acquired Torticollis?

Congenital torticollis or infant torticollis is a condition that develops when a baby’s neck muscle (sternocleidomastoid) is short and tight. This issue causes a baby’s head to tilt to one side and limits their range of motion. The condition is usually present at birth (congenital) and is sometimes called twisted neck or wryneck.

What are the different types of Torticollis?

The two main types of infant torticollis are:

Congenital Torticollis

Congenital torticollis, also known as congenital muscular torticollis (CMT), exists at birth. It’s the most common type of pediatric torticollis.

Acquired Torticollis

Acquired torticollis is a condition that develops after a baby is born.

What are the signs and symptoms of Torticollis?

Congenital Torticollis

  • Head tilting, favoring one side
  • Movement of the head to one side more than the other
  • Small bump in the middle of the neck muscle
  • Preference to look one way more than the other
  • Preference of resting their head on one side rather than the other when feeding or eating
  • Unusual head shape or a flat spot on the head (plagiocephaly)

Acquired Torticollis

  • Head always tilted to one side
  • Temporary spells of head tilting, lasting a few hours or days, that can also cause vomiting
  • Bulge in your child’s neck
  • Limited range of motion in the head and neck
  • Vision problems

How is Torticollis diagnosed?

Our doctors diagnose pediatric torticollis with a physical examination. During the exam, we’ll discuss your baby’s medical history, check their head shape and test how they move their neck. Sometimes, we recommend X-rays and vision exams to help confirm a diagnosis.

  • Although congenital torticollis occurs at birth, it may go unnoticed for several weeks. On average, most babies with congenital torticollis are diagnosed within the first few months of life.
  • Acquired torticollis typically develops in the first four to six months of a child’s life but can occur later.

What causes Pediatric Torticollis?

The cause of pediatric torticollis depends on the type. Congenital torticollis results from the shortening or tightening of the neck muscle, which can happen because of:

  • The way the baby was positioned in the womb during pregnancy
  • Unusual development of the neck muscle
  • Injury during birth

Acquired torticollis usually results from an injury (trauma) or underlying health condition, such as:

How is Pediatric Torticollis treated?

At Children's Health, we offer care from a team of experts who have special training in helping children overcome torticollis and many other conditions. Our doctors and physical therapists (PT) will pinpoint what's causing your child's torticollis. Then we'll build a custom treatment plan just for them.

Treatment for congenital torticollis

Our doctors typically begin your child’s treatment for congenital torticollis with physical therapy (PT) to stretch and strengthen the neck. Most babies improve their head and neck movement after a few months of PT. We will also show you ways to support your child’s recovery at home, with tummy time and stretching routines.

Treatment for acquired torticollis

Treatment for acquired torticollis aims at addressing the underlying cause to improve movement and symptoms. Your child’s care plan may include:

The children we see with torticollis almost always completely recover. If torticollis affects the shape of your baby’s head, we fit babies for safety helmets at our specialty clinic.

What are the long-term effects of Pediatric Torticollis?

Care and treatment from the right physical therapist can help children overcome torticollis. If the condition doesn’t improve, it can cause long-term effects such as:

  • Permanent muscle tightening
  • Unusual appearance in facial features (asymmetry)
  • Flat spot on one side or back of the head (plagiocephaly)
  • Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)
  • Motor development problems
  • Eye alignment problems that can lead to crossed eyes (strabismus)
  • Difficulty with balance

Does infant Torticollis go away?

Our care team recommends treatment for torticollis to prevent long-term complications. With proper care, children with torticollis usually fully recover.

Does Torticollis cause developmental delays?

Infant torticollis can delay important physical milestones, such as rolling over, sitting upright, crawling, standing and walking. Torticollis can also affect the quality of movement, making it harder for a baby to sit up, crawl or walk.

Congenital and Acquired Torticollis Doctors and Providers

At Children’s Health, our pediatric team includes experts in plastic surgery, orthopedics, physical medicine and rehabilitation, neurosurgery and physical therapy. Together, our specialists identify the cause of torticollis and create a care plan that’s customized to your child’s needs.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do I know if my baby has torticollis?

    Newborns with torticollis usually show signs and symptoms such as head tilting, trouble turning their head and difficulty feeding on one side. Your pediatrician can diagnose infant torticollis with a physical exam.

  • What happens if infant torticollis isn’t treated?

    Without treatment for torticollis, your child won’t be able to move their neck and head properly. The lack of muscle movement can lead to complications that include:

    • Developmental delays
    • Long-term muscle tightness
    • Head or face asymmetry (uneven growth and development of the face or head)
  • How long does torticollis last?

    The length of time torticollis may last will vary for each child and depends on the type of torticollis your child has. With most infants, we usually see improvement after about six months of physical therapy.