My passion for treating Torticollis

Uncategorized May 28, 2020

When I graduated as a doctor of chiropractic 20 years ago, I knew right away that I wanted to specialize in the care of babies and children. I resonated with the idea that babies and children do best when their nervous systems function optimally. The spine and central nervous system are the foundation for life and health of the body. It made sense to me to establish a proper foundation so that the baby would become a child and an adult with the healthiest outcomes.  

The nervous system is directly connected to the immune system, digestive system, respiratory system, hormonal system, sleep and learning pathways.  Every organ, tissue and cell of the body is completely dependent on a well function nervous system.

It's therefore,  imperative to prioritize the nervous system from the moment of conception and at birth.  After all, "as the twig is bent, so grows the tree".  The relationship between the spine and nervous system is necessary to ensure that babies and children can reach the immense potential they were born with. 

20 years ago when I finished graduate school, 1- 5% of babies had Torticollis.   Today, in 2020,  25% of babies suffer with Torticollis, and according to many of the experts I've interviewed, this number is an underestimate.  We currently have a Torticollis epidemic.

This increase in occurrence is largely associated with in-utero constraint, birth inductions with the stopping of membranes and the use of drugs like Pitocin, birth interventions such as C-sections, vacuum extraction, use of forceps and the manual traction used to pull babies out of the birth canal.  According to Karen Hazelbaker, Ph.D, the current "back to sleep" campaign is also a contributor.  

Contrary to the current messaging,  torticollis is NOT a simple matter of appearance or simply a posture problem.  This isn't just about babies with tilted or rotated heads and tight muscles. Torticollis represents a significant neurological problem.

Torticollis is most commonly unadressed.  Parents are often told that babies will "outgrow" it.  This is false.  And in the rare instance that a baby's torticollis is treated, the traditional and most common approach is to focus exclusively on the sternocleidomastoid muscle (the SCM).   The neurological stress which causes torticollis, results in a shortened or very taut SCM, often with nodule in the muscle. The way we go about it with traditional healthcare is to stretch the SCM and to use torticollis collars to force the head and neck into a straight position.  Stretching the SCM can actually result in greater symptoms of torticollis and more nervous system stress.  


Cranial nerves exit the brain through the cranium and send information directly to certain muscles.   Some muscles receive their nerve supply from spinal nerves, which, are connected to the spinal cord.  The SCM muscle, the big daddy of torticollis, receives its information directly from a cranial nerve (the Accessory nerve). The symptom of a taut and shortened SCM muscle in babies with torticollis is a representation of neurological dysfunction.  Yes. If we lengthen this muscle, either by cutting it or stretching it, we might see an aesthetic difference in the child, but the neurological challenges that are deeply ingrained with this type of direct connection to the brain,  will follow that child through toddlerhood, childhood and adulthood.

The assessment on a baby with torticollis should focus on the whole person.  In a baby with torticollis, the constant postural distortion will commonly result in flattening of the skull.  This flattening, or plagiocephaly is commonly mis-handled with cranial reshaping helmets.   Cranial bones are flat bones that come together to form joints called sutures (scissor joints).  Every time a baby breathes in those sutures are meant to open and every time the baby breathes out,  they're meant to close.  This opening and closing,  driven by breath,  enables the pump that sends cerebral spinal fluid down the spinal cord, where another pump at at the sacrum then sends it back up.

The movement of this fluid helps cool and lubricate the entire spinal cord and nervous system.  When the cranium is mishapenned and those sutures become immobile or they don't move as they should,  it affects that child on a deeper neurological level.

In bypassing  the necessary proper motion and neurological function that comes with that lack of motion in the cranial sutures with the use of helmets, we miss the mark for optimal healing.  

We must also address tongue tie, or more commonly, pseudo tongue-tie,  which is found in the majority of children with torticollis. Breastfeeding challenges like poor latch, poor sucking and poor swallow are extremely common.

Hip and pelvic distortions must also be assessed, as they are very commonly found in babies with torticoolis.  

A baby's primitive reflexes must be assessed to ensure that the neurological ramifications of the torticollis don't lead to sensory challenges like learning difficulties and to prevent the concerns of ADD and ADHD, oppositional defiance disorder, Tourettes etc...

I have spent the past 10 years studying torticollis. I work with midwives, tongue tie specialists, craniosacral specialists, lactation specialists and occupational therapists. This often must be a multidimensional approach.  My goal is to educate parents because unfortunately, these conversations and assessments often do not take place in pediatric offices.  

Awareness of torticollis as an epidemic is necessary in order to bring about prevention.  

The parent's of children with torticollis inherently feel and know that their child is having difficulty.  Parents worry,  despite being told that their child's posture is "normal" and that they will outgrow the head tilt, the breastfeeding difficulties, the fussiness and the digestive discomforts.

A concise assessment and treatment protocol are necessary.   Daily practices for parents and their babies, including specific exercises, specific play techniques and sleep position recommendations are also a must.

Our babies are meant to thrive, heal and reach their immense potential.  My purpose is to help facilitate this.

If you feel your baby may be suffering torticollis, I have a course which will give you the skills and advice you need - “How to Fully Resolve Torticollis in Your Baby”

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