Is your baby’s head tilted to one side? Does your baby struggle to turn in one direction? Or maybe you have radiating pain from your neck to your shoulder, accompanied by stiffness. Whether it’s affecting you or your baby, torticollis is a true “pain in the neck.” The good news is that most of the time, it can be cured, and chiropractic care can hasten your recovery. 

What Is Torticollis?

Torticollis, otherwise known as wry neck, is a condition in which one of the sternocleidomastoid muscles (SCMs, or “strap muscles”) has become tight and short, causing the head to tilt to one side. The SCM is a muscle extending up your neck from your collarbone to the back of your ears. 

Torticollis is most commonly diagnosed in infants and toddlers under two years old, although adults sometimes have the condition as well. In newborns, torticollis may appear immediately after birth or within the first three months. 

While torticollis can cause pain and stiffness, among other ailments, it can be cured. The earlier it is recognized, the easier it is to treat and heal.  

Types of Torticollis

There are several types of torticollis:

  • Congenital muscular torticollis. This is the most common kind of torticollis in infants; it appears at birth, often due to cramping in the womb or birth trauma caused by use of a vacuum or forceps. 
  • Temporary torticollis. This occurs due to a temporary ailment, such as swollen lymph nodes, a neck injury, or sleeping uncomfortably on the neck.
  • Fixed torticollis. As the name suggests, fixed torticollis is permanent and is usually caused by a problem within muscle or bone structure.
  • Klippel-Feil syndrome. This rare condition is caused by fused vertebrae in a baby’s neck. Children with this disorder generally experience hearing and vision loss. 
  • Cervical dystonia or spasmodic torticollis. Also a rare condition, cervical dystonia causes a more severe twisting of the neck due to muscle spasms. This kind of torticollis is generally found in adults over 40 rather than children. 

Head Tilt & Other Torticollis Symptoms in Your Baby

Torticollis in your baby is easily recognizable if you keep an eye out for any of these telltale symptoms:

  • Your baby’s head is tilted (in most cases the chin is pointing to the right)
  • Your baby struggles to turn his head or look up or down, which can aggravate him
  • There is a lump in your baby’s neck muscle
  • Your baby finds it difficult to nurse on one side while easily nursing on the other
  • You notice flattening on your baby’s head, or positional plagiocephaly, which comes from lying on one side for an extended time

Additionally, if your baby has symptoms of dysplasia of the hip, she may have torticollis as well, as the two conditions often coincide. Dysplasia of the hip occurs when a baby’s hip is not completely formed, causing the ball to slip in and out of the socket. This can be painful and can cause long term problems if not treated early on. 

Signs of dysplasia of the hip include:

  • Uneven legs
  • Popping in the hips
  • Stiff movement in one leg
  • Limping if your baby is already walking 

Seeking treatment for torticollis and dysplasia of the hip early will likely prevent more severe consequences, such as difficulty feeding, crawling, or walking, along with balance issues and difficulty tracking objects with the eye.

Symptoms of torticollis in adults are similar; you may have a tilted head, difficulty turning to one side, and pain in your neck and upper shoulders.

Baby with head tilted to the side

Treatments for Torticollis

Torticollis is not usually a lifelong condition for a baby or adult. In fact, with proper treatment, the problem can be resolved in a matter of days, weeks, or months depending on its severity. 

Once your baby is diagnosed with torticollis, your doctor may recommend visiting a physical therapist for regular stretching and strengthening exercises. In severe cases your doctor may recommend surgery, but this is extremely rare.

If your baby has been diagnosed with the rare Klippel-Feil syndrome or any other rare torticollis condition, your doctor will likely recommend a more targeted treatment plan to manage pain and other symptoms. 

In addition to physical therapy appointments, there are some activities you can try at home to encourage your baby’s neck muscles to strengthen: 

  • Gently stretch your baby’s neck (of course, ask your physical therapist to demonstrate the correct way to perform the stretches beforehand) 
  • Make sure baby gets tummy time each day
  • Encourage baby to feed on both sides
  • Use colorful toys and play with baby’s hands and feet to encourage mobility

Taking your baby to a chiropractor can also help relieve torticollis.

Chiropractic & Torticollis  

Chiropractic adjustments and massage therapy can be utilized to help relieve symptoms of torticollis and can even aid in healing the condition. In fact, the combination of physical therapy, home stretching, and chiropractic treatment can cure your baby’s torticollis. 

Torticollis often causes subluxations in the cervical spine (partial dislocations in the strong, flexible vertebrae in the neck). Essentially, this means that the neck is misaligned, or out of joint with the rest of the spine. This prevents the nervous system from properly communicating with the body, which can worsen torticollis pain and slow the healing of the muscle.

Gentle spinal manipulation and massage therapy relieve the cervical spine of subluxations and bring the spine into proper alignment, thus allowing the nervous system to communicate more swiftly with the body. This allows the weakened, stiff neck muscle to relax and stretch out little by little, thus eliminating the torticollis. 

Nervous about Bringing Your Baby to a Chiropractor for Torticollis? 

For adults, chiropractic treatment may be enough to reverse temporary torticollis; for more serious and rare conditions like cervical dystonia, your doctor will provide you with a personalized treatment plan which may or may not include chiropractic care.

If you’re an adult with torticollis, going to the chiropractor for pain relief may not intimidate you at all. However, taking your baby to be adjusted can be nerve-wracking. It may seem like spinal manipulations and adjustments would hurt your baby and do more harm than good. 

This is a common concern for parents who worry about the seemingly aggressive chiropractic methods they have heard about, witnessed, or experienced themselves. 

While some manual adjustments can be forceful at times on adults, all chiropractors are trained to adjust small children and babies gently. Babies do not need to undergo much pressure in order for their joints to be adjusted back into place. Additionally, many chiropractors specialize in prenatal and infant care. Choosing a chiropractor with years of experience treating pregnant women and babies can help put your mind at ease.

If you or your baby is suffering from torticollis, seeing a chiropractor can be your ticket to a fast and complete recovery.

At All Star Chiropractic, our goal is to help our patients recover from back pain, neck pain, lack of mobility, joint issues, range of motion issues, and more—without the use of prescription drugs. Our chiropractors are trained to treat a range of health issues, including torticollis. We believe in taking a holistic “whole-body” approach to your health. We don’t want to just temporarily fix your pain—we want to determine and treat the root cause so you live an active and pain-free life.

Call one of our locations today to schedule an appointment, or to learn more about how chiropractic care can help you.