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Infant Torticollis (& Plagiocephaly)

Infant Torticollis occurs when an infant's head has found a resting side preference and tips to one side. 

Quick Facts – What is it?

  • Latin ‘Torticollis’ translation: Tortus= twisted and collum= neck.
  • Tightness of a side neck muscle (sternocleidomastoid – SCM).
  • Plagiocephaly, (aka flat head syndrome) = flat spot on back or one side of infant’s head.
  • When the infant’s head has found a resting side preference, the head will thus tip to one side.
  • It could be acquired (positioning preference after birth) or the baby can be born with it.

Possible Causes – Are there predisposing factors?

  • It occurs when the sternocleidomastoid (SCM) muscle, on one side of the neck, is shorter or weaker than it should be.
  • Position of the baby in the uterus.
  • Infant staying in one head turned position for too long (torticollis).
  • Infant lying on their back for too long (plagiocephaly).
  • Could be congenital (born with) muscular torticollis.

Complexity of Symptoms – Risk factors

  • Affects the child’s ability of bending or turning the neck towards a shoulder.
  • Head rotation may be hindered.
  • Presence of a soft lump in neck muscle.
  • Possible difficulty breastfeeding on one side.
  • Infant may develop plagiocephaly (flattened side/area of baby’s head) from remaining in one position for extended periods of time.


Infant Torticollis is usually diagnosed by post-partum physician.  They will test the extent of the baby’s head mobility. If you notice your child unable to turn their head easily or have a flatter area of their head, it may be a sign.


Treatment is essential to minimize difficulties as infant/child grows, if left untreated the child may experience:

  • Limited control of their head
  • Poor balance
  • Problem feeding
  • Crooked crawling

Physiotherapy is often all that is needed to correct the tight muscle, and correct plagiocephaly. Education, exercises, stretches, play-time tips, tummy time, etc. can help your child to improve.

CHEO has a program and resources available to help with self-management, as well as alternative treatment options when Physiotherapy is not enough. Check out CHEO’s information and home exercise sheets!

Need more help?  Not sure where to start?

Give us a call and book an appointment with one of our experienced physiotherapists.

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Welcome to the Nepean Sports Medicine & Physiotherapy Centre blog, where we provide lots of helpful tips, news, information and advice about physiotherapy and massage treatments, as well as general health and wellness, in Nepean and Ottawa.

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