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Torticollis and Cerebral Palsy: Is There a Link?

baby with torticollis and cerebral palsy

Torticollis and cerebral palsy are both characterized by muscle stiffness and can sometimes be mistaken for one another.

To help you understand the differences between torticollis and cerebral palsy, this article will go over their causes, symptoms, and treatments.

Causes of Torticollis vs. Cerebral Palsy

Torticollis is the sideways tilting or turning of the head caused by the tightening of a muscle in the neck called the sternocleidomastoid.

Individuals with cerebral palsy can also experience head tilting as a result of abnormal muscle tone.

Both CP and torticollis can be caused before or after birth. When an infant is born with torticollis, it is called congenital muscular torticollis.

There are many causes of congenital muscular torticollis, but it is most commonly a result of birth complications or abnormal positioning in the womb.

In contrast, cerebral palsy is the outcome of damage to areas of the brain responsible for movement.

Common causes of CP-related brain damage include:

  • Stroke
  • Lack of oxygen to the brain
  • Blood clots
  • Premature birth
  • Brain infections
  • Abnormal brain development
  • Birth complications

The main difference in causation between these two conditions is that torticollis is primarily caused by pressure on the body while CP is caused by damage to the brain.

Now that you understand what causes these two conditions, let go over differences in symptoms.

Symptoms of Torticollis and Cerebral Palsy

infant showing symptoms of torticollis and cerebral palsy

Torticollis and cerebral palsy might be mistaken for one another because they share a common symptom: stiffness in the neck that causes the head to tilt.

As a result, infants may struggle to turn their head to the other side and often develop a flat spot on the affected side of their head from lying in the same position too often.

Generally, symptoms of torticollis become evident within the first 4 weeks of life. However, head tilting might be difficult to notice in young infants.

While torticollis is limited to tightness in the neck, cerebral palsy has many more defining symptoms.

For example, cerebral palsy can cause muscle stiffness in various areas of the body, not just the neck. Similarly, cerebral palsy may not affect the neck at all.

Common symptoms of cerebral palsy include:

Cerebral palsy is a neurological movement disorder while torticollis is a muscular condition that solely affects the neck.

In the next section, we’ll review how treatment approaches for torticollis vs. cerebral palsy.

Treatment of Torticollis and CP

baby with cp and torticollis with parents

Although cerebral palsy and torticollis are very different conditions, their management interventions are similar.

Torticollis can be treated. However, timely treatment is necessary to prevent permanent abnormalities to head shape.

With the right treatment, 90-95% of infants improve within a year and 97% improve before 6 months.

In contrast, the brain damage that causes cerebral palsy cannot be healed; however, it also will not worsen over time.

Luckily, the brain is extremely adaptable. The earlier and more intensively physical therapy is pursued, the better the chances are of improving motor impairments.

Management of torticollis and cerebral palsy can both consist of:

  • Physical therapy (to stretch and strengthen affected muscles)
  • Orthotics (to provide structural support)
  • Home exercises (to increase frequency of stretching and improve range of motion)
  • Botox injections (to temporary relieve muscle tightness and maximize mobility for exercise)
  • Surgery (to relieve extreme muscle tightness that does not respond to any of the treatments mentioned above)

Treatment will vary depending on the severity of one’s cerebral palsy or torticollis.

Understanding Torticollis and CP

Torticollis and cerebral palsy vary in causes and symptoms but share similar methods of treatment.

One is a muscular condition, while the other is a neurological disability.

It’s essential to seek early management for both conditions to minimize their effects on balance and pain.

Hopefully, this article helped you understand the differences between torticollis and cerebral palsy.

Photos from top to bottom: iStock/ halfpoint/demcat/LSOphoto

Keep It Going: See Fun Ways to Recover from Cerebral Palsy

Finally! There’s a recovery device for CP that’s actually fun to use. See how Flint Rehab’s tools are helping with CP recovery:

“The FitMi and MusicGlove have done wonders for my son with hemiparesis from cerebral palsy and stroke. It motivates him to do his exercises. It does not seem like therapy for him since it is fun. It monitors his progress so it is a great reinforcement for him. Music is a motivator for him. He has been using it on his arm and we will try the leg exercises soon.”

FitMi works by motivating high repetition of therapeutic exercises while playing an engaging game. This gamification has been particularly great for motivating individuals with cerebral palsy to recover.

To see how FitMi works, click here »