What Is Congenital Muscular Torticollis (Twisted Neck)?

“Congenital” denotes a condition that is present at birth. Congenital torticollis happens at or shortly after birth.

Congenital muscular torticollis also known as twisted neck or wryneck, where the baby’s head is tilted to one side and restricting the head movement. Congenital torticollis is whereby the sternocleidomastoid muscle which is the muscle that stretches from the head to the side of the neck is tight and shorter on one side, causing the head to be tilted to one side.

Usually for infants, some stretching exercises or correct position when being held will lengthen the muscle and address to the problem.

Who Usually Gets Congenital Muscular Torticollis?

Congenital muscular torticollis is present at birth or happens soon after. This condition usually learnt between the first month to second month, when a baby starts to gain more control over the head and neck. 

Some babies with congenital torticollis also have developmental dysplasia of the hip, a condition in which the head of the thighbone is not held firmly in the hip socket.

What Cause Congenital Muscular Torticollis?

The reason for congenital muscular torticollis is a mystery, yet some states that it could be linked to the abnormal positioning (e.g. breech position) or “crowding” of the baby while in the uterus. As a result, the neck muscle will be injured and may bleeds or swell leaving scars. The scars tissues may replace some of the muscle making it shorter and tighter. 

As of today, there is still no preventive measure for congenital muscular torticollis.

What are the Symptoms of Congenital Muscular Torticollis?

  • The head slanted to one side and the chin pointed towards the other shoulder.
  • The movement of the neck is restricted.
  • Visible muscle swelling in the affected neck muscle during the first few weeks. However the swell will fade away when the baby is 6 month old.
  • The child always sleeps on one side which may cause one side of the face and head to be flatten.

How is Congenital Muscular Torticollis Diagnosed?

The doctor will do a physical examination and check for other conditions that can cause torticollis symptoms.

Imaging test such as X-rays or/and ultrasound scans on the neck or hip may be taken for further investigation.

What are the Treatments for Congenital Muscular Torticollis?

Nonsurgical Treatment

The normal treatment for congenital muscular torticollis is some stretching exercise for the sternocleidomastoid muscle.

This exercise consist of turning the infant’s neck sideways on both side so that the chin touches the shoulder on both side, then slightly tilt the head to the unaffected side such that the ear touches the shoulder.  Practice it a few times a day to see better result.

Alternatively, you can also place the baby’s toys where he/her needs to turn their head to look at it. Make sure that the baby head is tilt away from then the affected side when carrying them. You can also place the crib such that the baby will look away from the side to see you.

Surgical Treatment

Not all non-surgical method works for congenital muscular torticollis, about 10% of them require surgery. It is usually done when the child reaches preschool age. The surgery will lengthen the short sternocleidomastoid muscle and usually done in a day surgery and will be discharged within the same day.