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What is torticollis?

Congenital muscular torticollis (CMT)  is shortening of the sternocleidomastoid (SCM) muscle in the neck. This causes a baby to hold their head tilted or rotated to one side from birth.

Some babies may develop a harmless, fibrous lump within the neck muscle which usually resolves over time.

Due to restricted neck movements some babies may have a flattened head which commonly resolves with treatment

Illustration of side of neck showing muscle which is effected by torticollis from ear to collar bone

What causes torticollis?

The cause of torticollis is not always clear. However factors that are linked with torticollis are:

  • Breech and assisted delivery
  • Larger birth weight and positioning in the womb
  • Other congenital abnormalities such as club foot and hip dysplasia

Why does my baby need physiotherapy?

If this condition is not treated early and consistently, your baby’s head will become flattened from lying in one position which may make the face look lopsided.

What does a baby with torticollis look like?

A baby with torticollis prefers lying with the head turned to one particular side and sometimes tilted to the opposite side. This position will be difficult to correct when you try to move your baby’s head.

Illustration of child with torticollis with head going towards one shoulder

How long will it take for this to resolve?

It can take a year or longer to fully resolve as your baby is developing. In some babies that do not respond to exercises by 1 year old, surgical release of the sternocleidomastoid muscle may be needed.

When found early, and exercises and positioning are followed consistently there is an 80 percent chance of recovery with no long term effects.

How is torticollis treated?

Following a physiotherapy assessment you will be provided with a stretching exercise programme to lengthen your babies neck muscles.

Positioning and environmental advice will be given to encourage your baby to turn their head to the restricted side. Tummy time is very important to improve head control and allow your baby to take the pressure off their head.

Positioning when feeding and when in the cot can also encourage your baby to turn to the restricted side.

Some delay of developmental milestones can be normal but this is something your physiotherapist will monitor.

Neck movements should have returned to normal by the time your baby is 1 year old, as long as they have been treated early.

Contact us

Physiotherapy department: 0114 271 7227

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Please note: this is a generic information sheet relating to care at Sheffield Children’s NHS FT. These details may not reflect treatment at other hospitals. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professionals’ instructions. If this resource relates to medicines, please read it alongside the medicine manufacturer’s patient information leaflet. If this information has been translated into another language from English, efforts have been made to maintain accuracy, but there may still be some translation errors. If you are unsure about any of the guidance in this resource or have specific questions about how it relates to your child, always ask your healthcare professional for further advice.

Resource number: PT2

Resource Type: Article

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