Each year, it is estimated that many children, approximately one out of 60, are at risk for developing a complication known as torticollis. As a complication involving the muscles affected by a misshapen skull, infants who develop torticollis do so in response to Positional head deformity.
Positional head deformity is a complication increasingly more common among children; especially those children who sleep on their backs most of the time. In response to the increased risk for SIDS, Sudden Infant Death syndrome, many parents work eagerly to prevent SIDS and, inadvertently, may cause their child to develop Positional head deformity.
What is Positional head deformity? A complication in which an infant’s occipital region becomes misshapen or malformed, Positional head deformity often results in a complication in which the child’s skull changes shape, often due to the prolonged periods of lying on the back and keeping the head faced one direction.
At your child’s pediatric visits during the first six months of life, you may notice your pediatrician regularly measures your child’s head circumference and diameter. While there are many health complications that can be screened through this process, the head circumference and diameter can provide the first signs into Positional head deformity.
As a parent, you can often tell if your child is development Positional head deformity through a simple examination of your child’s head yourself. In children who suffer from PHD, you may notice the development of a bald spot on the occipital regions of the head. Examining your child’s ears, if you notice that one sits further to the back of the head, this is indicative of a child whose skull development has resulted in a flattening effect.
To treat a child with Positional head deformity, your pediatrician will recommend the use of a custom made helmet, designed to fit on your child’s head and prevent further flattening to any area of the skull. With the use of a helmet, the muscle that is most affected by Positional head deformity, known as the ipsilateral sternocleidomastoid, can be treated. When not utilized, a child who develops PHD, and experiences damage to the muscle, may suffer from a condition in which torticollis develops and the child will only be able to move the head one direction.
In addition to helmet use, the pediatrician will also recommend physical therapy sessions for the infant in which the child is engaged in play that will strengthen and elongate the muscles, teaching parents to do the same at home.
While SIDS is a significant concern among many new parents, sleeping on the back may be a key part of your prevention of SIDS in your home. While sleeping on the back has shown that your infant may be at a significantly reduced risk for developing SIDS, maintaining this position for extended periods can result in complication involving abnormal skull development. It is important, therefore, to play with your infant on a regular basis, avoiding laying the infant on the back for too many extended hours and, when symptoms of PHD develop, consult a pediatrician immediately.