Twisted Neck at Birth (Congenital Muscular Torticollis)

What is congenital muscular torticollis?

Congenital torticollis is the term used when a baby is born with a twisted neck that causes the baby’s head to turn to one side. It’s also called wryneck.

What is the cause?

Congenital muscular torticollis is caused by a shortened neck muscle. Most often the muscle that is shortened is the one that goes across the neck from the collarbone to just behind the ear. The exact cause of the shortened neck muscle is not known. One theory is that the muscle stretched too much when the baby’s head was delivered at birth. Severe stretching can cause bleeding into the muscle. Pressure from bleeding and swelling can damage the muscle. Scar tissue then replaces some of the muscle, making the muscle shorter. Some other theories are that it is caused by crowding inside the uterus or a blood vessel problem.

What are the symptoms?

Your child keeps his head turned in one direction.

How is it diagnosed?

Your child’s healthcare provider will examine your child.

How is it treated?

Your healthcare provider will give you exercises to do with your baby to stretch and move the baby’s neck.

It can help to put a baby in a situation where the baby will have to use the affected muscle. For example, lay your baby in the crib so that if your baby wants to see what is going on in the room, he will have to turn the chin towards the shoulder of the affected side. This will stretch the muscle and help cure the problem.

Stretching and other exercises are usually the only treatment that is needed for congenital muscular torticollis. Your healthcare provider may refer you to a physical therapist to help see how well the treatment is working. In rare cases, surgery may be done.

How can I take care of my child?

Do the exercises recommended by your healthcare provider.

Ask your healthcare provider:

  • How long it will take your child to recover from this condition
  • What activities your child should avoid
  • How to take care of your child at home
  • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if your child has them

Make sure you know when you should bring your child back for a checkup.

Written by Robert Brayden, MD, Professor of Pediatrics, University of Colorado.
Pediatric Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2013-01-30
Last reviewed: 2013-01-22
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
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