Watching 9-month old Robert giggle and play, it’s hard to imagine him as anything but a happy baby. But it wasn’t always that way. Up until three months ago, he rarely smiled.
“He was a very serious little boy,” recalls his mother, Courtney Johnson.
Robert had reflux, trouble breastfeeding and spit up a lot. He also cried when he was put on his tummy and kept his head tilted to one side.
It was the head tilt that caught the attention of Johnson’s grandmother. “She called one night after we visited and was very concerned,” said Johnson.
The Johnsons soon learned that Robert had torticollis. His neck muscles had tightened to the point that he had a hard time keeping his head straight.
“Looking back, all his symptoms were associated with torticollis,” said Johnson. “However, since he spit up so much, he never did that much tummy time. So we just thought he had a weak neck.”
Children who go untreated can develop a wide range of complications, including poor balance, developmental delays, jaw problems, scoliosis, head flattening and weakness on one side of his or her body.
Most infants begin to show signs of torticollis as early as 2-4 weeks old, but it typically isn’t diagnosed until 4-6 months, when infants should be developing better head control. Waiting until then can affect treatment, however.
“There’s a significant difference in how easily the problem can be corrected at two months versus six months,” said Renee Raspet, a pediatric physical therapist with New Hanover Regional Medical Center’s Coastal Rehabilitation Hospital. “Parents who notice their baby has a preference for one side should bring it to the attention of their physician as early as possible.”
At six months, Robert’s head had started to flatten in the back, a likely result of spending so much time sitting or lying down. He was fitted for a helmet that is continually adjusted to gently reshape his head and allow his brain to grow properly.
“It breaks my heart that he spent the first six months of his life so uncomfortable,” said Johnson. “I wish more people would know about this condition, because the earlier one can start with physical therapy, the better it is for the child.”
Robert’s bi-weekly therapy at Coastal Rehabilitation Hospital and the work his mother does with him at home have strengthened his neck to the point that he now can move his head freely and is using both his hands. “It’s amazing how far he’s come,” said Johnson. “You can see a big difference in his mood. It’s as if he came alive when we started physical therapy. He laughs and plays and is into everything.”For more information about torticollis treatment, please call NHRMC’s Coastal Rehabilitation Hospital at 815.5626.