Neck Problems in Infants

Written by jacqueline trovato
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Neck Problems in Infants
Neck Problems in Infants (Image by Flickr.com, courtesy of foundphotoslj)

Neck problems in infants can range from neck masses to a birth defect called congenital muscular torticollis (twisted neck) to torticollis due to developmental problems. If you are concerned that your infant has a neck problem, consult your child's doctor right away for a thorough diagnosis and proper treatment.

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Neck Masses

Neck masses are problematic for many infants and children. They may also appear in areas around the neck or head. Some are present at birth, or they may be caused by a respiratory or sinus infection. Although cancerous neck masses in infants are rare, some are caused by cancer.

If you see or feel any kind of mass on your infant's neck, have it examined immediately by your child's doctor. Tests may be required to determine the type of mass, and if other areas have been affected. Treatment depends upon the type of the mass, but often surgery is required to remove the mass.

Congenitall Muscular Torticollis

Congenital muscular torticollis (also known as wryneck) is present at birth. The infant's neck is twisted because a neck muscle is too short. It can occur because the baby was abnormally positioned in the uterus; or it results from a difficult delivery such as a breech birth, in which the baby is born feet first instead of head first. Trauma from the delivery causes the neck muscle that goes from the baby's jawbone to his collarbone and breastbone to be stretched, pulled or torn. When the muscle is injured, scar tissue forms and causes the neck to twist and pull the baby's head to one side.

Congenital muscular torticollis may not be apparent until several weeks after birth. Symptoms to look for are a tilting of your baby's head to one side where the chin turns to the opposite side, or the presence of a small mass in the muscle of the sternum (breastbone). Your child's doctor will examine your infant for these signs and perform X-rays or an ultrasound to confirm the diagnosis. Depending upon your child's ability to undergo treatment, your doctor may advise you to gently stretch out and stimulate the muscle, or surgery on the muscle may be needed to loosen it.

Torticollis Due to Developmental Issues

An increasing number of babies are being diagnosed with neck problems. Many physical and occupational therapists believe this is caused by infants being placed on their backs to sleep rather than on their stomachs. Parents today are being urged to keep their sleeping infants on their backs to prevent sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Before the SIDS scare, parents felt comfortable placing their babies on their stomachs to sleep.

Not only do babies who sleep on their backs miss important tummy time, which helps them develop strong head and neck muscles, but many show a propensity to turn or hold their heads to one side. If they do this, the neck muscles contract and they may develop torticollis.

You Can Prevent Developmental Torticollis

You can prevent developmental torticollis by keeping your baby's head and neck straight with supports when she's in an infant carrier or carseat; by switching the side from which you are feeding her each time; by reversing your baby's position on the diaper table; by varying the ways you carry your baby, so she uses different head positions; and by avoiding the use of carriers that keep your baby in a semi-reclined position. Your baby needs time on her tummy to develop strong neck muscles. It is important to place your baby on her tummy several times a day.

Early Treatment is Essential

If you suspect your baby has a neck mass or torticollis, it is important that you consult a pediatric specialist right away. Treatment of neck masses depends on an accurate diagnosis to define the type of mass, and whether it is caused by an infection or a cancer.

If torticollis is not corrected, your baby will not be able to move his head properly, and permanent muscle tightening can occur. Treatment for torticollis is more effective if it is implemented early; when an infant is from two weeks to two months old.

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