Clinical Practice Guidelines

Congenital Torticollis


  • Statewide logo

    This guideline has been adapted for statewide use with the support of the Victorian Paediatric Clinical Network

  • See also

    Acquired Torticollis

    Key Points

    1. Congenital torticollis is usually diagnosed within the first month of life. Diagnosis after 6 months is rare and other causes should be considered.
    2. Muscular torticollis is most common. If the examination supports a diagnosis of congenital muscular torticollis, no further investigations are required.
    3. Mild cases of congenital torticollis are managed at home by the care giver with simple stretching exercises.
    4. More severe cases require referral to physiotherapy and rarely orthopaedics.

    Background

    Congenital torticollis is a postural deformity of the neck that develops prenatally.
    It is usually noted within the first month of life, however, diagnosis can be delayed.

    There are 2 types:

    • Muscular: Tightness of the sternocleidomastoid (SCM) muscle and limitation of passive range of motion. This is the most common type
      • Muscular with SCM mass: Thickening of the SCM muscle and limitation of passive range of motion
    • Postural: Infant has a preferred head posture but no muscle tightness or restriction to passive range of motion

    Assessment

    Red flag features in Red

    Congenital muscular torticollis should be suspected in infants with a preferred head position or posture, reduced range of motion of the cervical spine, SCM mass, and/or craniofacial asymmetry. 

    History

    • Onset: Noticed at birth or shortly after supports diagnosis
    • Infants may have difficulty feeding on one side
    • Time spent in prone position (lack of tummy time may contribute to persistence)
    • Developmental milestones, especially gross motor, may be delayed
    • However, the delays appear to be more strongly related to infrequent prone positioning while awake and resolve by preschool age (3.5 to 5 years)

    Examination

    • Head position: The head and ear are tilted toward the affected SCM and the chin points to the opposite side
    • Normal passive neck movements: When stabilised in the supine position, the examiner should be able to passively rotate the chin past the shoulders and laterally flex the neck so that the top of the ear touches the shoulder. Limitation suggests torticollis
    • Palpate for tightening or SCM mass: The characteristic SCM mass is well circumscribed, firm and found in the inferior one-third of the affected SCM
    • Head shape and sutures (plagiocephaly and facial asymmetry are common)
    • Eye movements, back and spine, upper and lower limbs and a neurological examination should be performed to identify rare non-muscular causes 
    • Note that Developmental Dysplasia of the Hip (DDH) is a common association and hips should be assessed

    Differential Diagnosis
    Consider an alternative diagnosis if no muscle tightness or mass is palpated on examination

    • Rarely congenital torticollis may be secondary to vertebral anomalies, clavicle fractures, plagiocephaly, craniosynostosis, ocular pathology or CNS lesions

    Management

    Investigations

    • Routine neck imaging is not recommended
    • If a mass is present but not characteristic of SCM, ultrasound (US) may be helpful
    • A cervical spine X-ray may detect vertebral anomalies in atypical torticollis
    • A hip US in infants with congenital muscular torticollis is recommended

    Treatment

    • Educate caregiver on infant positioning during feeding, sleeping and playing (including the importance of supervised prone positioning) and making environmental modifications to encourage head and neck movement
    • Passive stretching exercises 4-5 times a day
    • GP follow up within 4 weeks for monitoring
    • Consider referral to physiotherapy in the following cases:
      • No improvement with home exercises by 4-6 weeks 
      • Severe torticollis: limited ROM at diagnosis (e.g. <30 degrees rotation)
      • Child older than 3 months at diagnosis with more than minimal torticollis
      • Associated moderate to severe plagiocephaly

    A majority of cases will resolve after four to five months. If no significant improvement by 6 months of age, re-consider the diagnosis or refer to paediatric orthopaedic surgeon.  

    Consider consultation with local paediatric team when:

    Diagnosis unclear
    Red flag identified

    Consider transfer when:

    Care required beyond the comfort level of the local healthcare facility

    For emergency advice and paediatric or neonatal ICU transfers, call the Paediatric Infant Perinatal Emergency Retrieval (PIPER) Service: 1300 137 650.

    Consider discharge when:

    Patients can be discharged from follow up once they have:

    • Improved range of motion
    • Age-appropriate motor development
    • No visible head tilt

    Parent Information

    Kids Health Info on Plagiocephaly

     Last updated May, 2019