Treating Pediatric Torticollis with Chiropractic Care

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Pediatric torticollis is a musculoskeletal condition that severely restricts the range of motion of an infant’s head and neck. In patients with this condition, the head tilts in one direction, while the neck tilts in the other. The most common form is congenital muscular torticollis (sometimes called infant torticollis), which is present at birth. About 1 in every 250 babies has congenital muscular torticollis, so it is considered a relatively common condition. The less common form of pediatric torticollis is acquired torticollis, which may manifest during the first few years of life.

If a baby has torticollis, it means that the sternocleidomastoid muscle — which is the muscle that runs up the back of the neck toward the head — has been shortened. However, the underlying reason for the shortened neck muscle can vary widely between patients. It may be the result of something as simple as the baby’s positioning within the womb during gestation, or it may be caused by a more serious pathological condition, such as a tumor in the sternocleidomastoid muscle (which causes between 0.3 percent and 2 percent of cases of congenital muscular torticollis) or Klippel-Feil syndrome (which is a rare musculoskeletal condition characterized by abnormalities of the cervical spine). Perhaps the most common cause of congenital muscular torticollis is an injury to the sternocleidomastoid muscle during the delivery. This type of injury can lead to swelling and bleeding in the muscle during and shortly after delivery, which leads to a shortening of the sternocleidomastoid muscle when the muscle tissue is replaced with scar tissue.

In order to avoid musculoskeletal problems as the child gets older, it is important for parents to address pediatric torticollis as early as possible. While surgery is necessary for some patients, it can usually be avoided by implementing a daily stretching and physical therapy routine. Another way to address pediatric torticollis without surgery is with spinal manipulation. Read on to learn more about the benefits of chiropractic care for infants and toddlers with pediatric torticollis.

How Chiropractic Treatments Work for Infants with Torticollis

An appointment with a chiropractor can make a meaningful difference for pediatric patients with torticollis. In particular, by using spinal manipulation therapy, a chiropractor can address subluxations in the infant’s upper cervical spine, which are commonly associated with the condition. A subluxation is a partial dislocation of one of the vertebrae in the spine, and many pediatric patients present with multiple subluxations. The dislocation of the vertebrae can interfere with nerve signaling throughout the body, which can interfere with healthy development — even outside the musculoskeletal system.

By supporting more efficient, effective communication between the nervous system and the rest of the body, spinal manipulation therapy can prevent problems that might otherwise arise from the shortening of the sternocleidomastoid muscle. It goes beyond traditional physical therapy because it doesn’t just address the torticollis. Instead, it prevents possible complications and supports the healthy development of the infant from a holistic perspective.

Chiropractors also have the expertise to advise parents on some of the strategies they can use to help address the pediatric torticollis between appointments. Through an evaluation of the infant’s condition and the family’s lifestyle, the chiropractor can help develop an individualized treatment plan that is ideally suited to the patient’s needs.

Case Study: Significant Improvements for a Pediatric Patient with Acquired Torticollis

It is much more common for chiropractors to see patients with congenital muscular torticollis, but there is evidence that chiropractic care can also be beneficial for pediatric patients with acquired torticollis. For instance, in a 2015 case study report in the Journal of Chiropractic Medicine, researchers from the Swiss Academy for Chiropractic found that spinal manipulative therapy provided effective treatment for an infant with acquired torticollis. The patient’s mother first noticed the head tilt when the child was 7 months old, and it grew worse when he started to walk at 15 months. At 18 months, the child developed an abnormal fixation of the right eye, which may have been caused by subluxations of the vertebrae due to the torticollis.

After ruling out a tumor of the cervical spine or the sternocleidomastoid muscle as a cause, the patient was prescribed a treatment that consisted of a weekly chiropractic visit, alongside regular massage and stretching of the neck muscles. Remarkably, within four weeks after starting treatment, the torticollis was almost entirely resolved, and the abnormal fixation of the right eye was absent.

It is important to note that this is only a single case, but it indicates that spinal manipulation therapy can be effective for pediatric patients with torticollis — even severe cases that have started to affect other body systems. For parents who are looking for ways to resolve torticollis without having to resort to surgery, spinal manipulation therapy is an important option to consider.


Atlanta Chiropractic and Wellness provides safe, effective chiropractic care for patients of all ages — including infants. Whether or not you are looking to address a particular condition, like pediatric torticollis, we have experience working closely with families to support the healthy development of infants and toddlers. Contact us today to schedule an appointment!

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