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Infant Neck Muscle Problems After Birth

By Wallis Bishop

Congenital muscular torticollis, or CMT, is by far the most common neck problem infants experience. According to the American Academy of Orthotists and Prosthetists, CMT effects 1 in every 300 newborns. While this condition can be troubling to parents, with proper treatment it can usually be resolved over time.

Congenital Muscular Torticollis

Congenital muscular torticollis, or CMT, is a condition in which the muscles on one side of the neck are tightened or shortened, causing the head to tilt. CMT can vary in severity and is sometimes not immediately apparent at birth, though most parents will notice within a few weeks that their child favors holding her head to one side. While CMT is treatable, it is important that it be addressed as early as possible, so take any concerns to your pediatrician right away.


There are several different causes of congenital muscular torticollis. One of the most common is a trauma that occurs during birth that results in an injury to the muscles on one side of the baby's neck. When the injury heals a scar may form which causes the muscle to shorten. CMT can also occur in-utero if the baby settles into a position where his head is tilted and is unable to move again. This can prevent the neck muscles from developing appropriately.


Diagnosing congenital muscular torticollis is usually not very difficult, as the head tilt is a very distinct symptom of this condition. An x-ray or ultrasound can be performed to check for scarring of the muscle and to help determine how severe the condition is. Parents are very important in helping to diagnose CMT, as sometimes only those who spend extended periods of time with the child will notice less severe cases.


Treatment of congenital muscular torticollis almost always involves some form of physical therapy. If the therapy begins early and is consistent, CMT can be completely resolved. The physical therapy usually consists of gentle movements that help stretch the constricted neck muscle. Parents can learn these stretches and perform them at home. Some cases of CMT may require surgery to lengthen the muscle if physical therapy is ineffective. There are also neck collars made to help correct CMT.

Other Neck Problems

While congenital muscular torticollis is by far the most common neck problem infants face, there are other issues that may not deal specifically with the muscles of the neck. For instance, children are occasionally born with masses or tumors in their necks which require surgical removal. Also, a stiff neck that is painful to move can be a sign of meningitis. Because the neck is connected to the spinal cord, any type of neck injury has the potential to be very serious and should be addressed right away.

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