What Happens When Torticollis Goes Untreated

As a pediatric physical therapist in the outpatient setting, about 10-25% of my patients are diagnosed with Torticollis. Torticollis is the tightening of one muscle in the neck called the Sternocladeomastoid, or SCM for short. The SCM is the muscle that controls ipsilateral sidebend and contralateral head rotation.  This muscle, located on either side of the neck, works to tuck the chin down.  When one side works independently, it will work to turn the head to the opposite side and tilt the head towards the direction of the muscle. Torticollis is a serious medical condition, and left untreated, can result in many impairments. I will go over some of the most frequent and serious below.

Possible Results of Untreated Torticollis:

  • Plagiocephaly – This is the most common consequence of untreated Torticollis. Plagiocephaly isWhat Happens When Torticollis Goes Untreated the mishapening of the bones on the skull, usually resulting in a large flat spot on one side of the back of the head and facial assymetries. Early diagnosis and conservative treatment can be successful in decreasing the severity of the Plagiocephaly. However, late diagnosis must be treated by a helmet or craniofacial surgery.
  • Cervical spine contractures into the preferred head rotation and sidebend – These contractures can become ossified over time, significantly impacting functional mobility and ability to interact with peers. Once a contracture is ossified, surgery is required to lengthen the muscle, followed by several sessions of physical therapy to regain full cervical spine range of motion.
  • Limited shoulder mobility – Decreased active movement into non-preferred rotation and sidebend can also result in shoulder elevation. This in turn impacts the child’s ability for upper extremity weight-bearing and reaching toward midline with hand.
  • Cervical Scoliosis – Persistent head tilt in the absence of shoulder elevation can result in a lateral shift of the cervical spine, which leads to cervical scoliosis.

If you suspect that your child has Torticollis, please contact one of our physical therapists at North Shore Pediatric Therapy for a free screen.

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NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

2 replies
  1. Tord Ringereide Bergholtz
    Tord Ringereide Bergholtz says:

    Hi. I am a 17 year old boy from Norway. I have had untreated torticollis my whole life and have all the results listed in this article to varying degrees. It was just discovered three years ago, and i am now finally having an operation very soon which will hopefully improve on my current condition. I have not been able to find anyone else with untreated torticollis or someone who has any experience with it. I would love to be able to chat with someone who might have some relating tips. I am also willing to give some information about my experience if anyone is interested.

    • Colleen McCloskey
      Colleen McCloskey says:

      Hello! Thank you for reaching out. I’m sorry to hear that you have been living with undiagnosed torticollis, although I am happy to hear that you are now taking actions to help alleviate the complications that have occurred as a result. Here are some suggestions for you as you prepare for this surgery:

      1. Get evaluated by a physical therapist. If you haven’t gone to see a physical therapist yet, now would be the time to do so. The PT can provide you with some stretching and strengthening exercises to help get your neck muscles ready for surgery and recovery.
      2. Continue with physical therapy after surgery. Your physical therapist will help you maintain the gains achieved through surgery, as well as continue improvements with range of motion and strength in your neck in order to achieve increased neck muscle symmetry and improved neck alignment.
      3. Be VERY consistent with your home exercise routine following surgery. Your surgeon and/or physical therapist should provide you with stretching and strengthening exercises to complete following your surgery. In order to have the outcome of your surgery be successful and ultimately result in improved symmetry and alignment you will need to make sure that you are diligent with completing these exercises. If you are not, you can run the risk of having your neck muscles become tight and weak again, and end up in a similar situation to before surgery.
      4. Address any vision or vestibular difficulties. The development and functioning of your visual and vestibular systems are highly dependent on your head positon and alignment. Since your head alignment will be different following surgery, you may experience some new visual or vestibular complications. An occupational therapist or vision therapist may be able to help address these concerns.


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