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The Connection Between Torticollis and Tongue Tie

Updated: Nov 10, 2023

How your infant's motor concerns may be related to feeding difficulties and tongue tie

What is torticollis and plagiocephaly?

Torticollis is the tightening on the neck muscles on one side, which in turn causes your child's head to tilt toward the side that is tight and rotate or look away to the other side. So if the right neck muscles are tight, the head will tilt towards the right side and rotate and look towards the left side. This rotation and tilt can cause more pressure on one side of the head and flattening of the head. This change of head shape is called plagiocephaly.

Yes baby containers and spending a lot of time on their back can cause or increase the risk of these two things, but often it is from positioning or having less room to move around in utero. This conversation about the importance of having your infant experience a variety of positions is from another post though!

So what does this have to do with tongue tie and issues feeding?

First, what exactly is happening when a child has a tongue tie? Tongue tie is when the tissue of the tongue is connected the floor of the mouth, the gums, or lips ad restricts the movement of these structures. Signs of a tongue tie can include difficulty latching, being unsettled or tiring easily when feeding, slow weight gain, and reflux.

So whats the connection? Both of these two things are a tightness of muscles in the head and neck area. Restriction of movement in the head or mouth from a tongue tie can lead to tightness in the neck, leading to torticollis. If the tightness of the tongue tie is severe enough to impact breathing, this can lead to the child turning their head to one side to breath fully resulting in a side preference that could lead to torticollis and plagiocephaly. Furthermore, often a tongue tie can lead to reflux. If the child is uncomfortable they are often positioning themselves where they are most comfortable, which can impact their full gross motor development and ability to participate in typical developmental positions that positively impact development.

What does this mean for you?

If you are noticing your child having difficulty feeding, preferring to look at one side, or preferring certain positions it may be worthwhile to look at what is happening with their tongue and mouth first, before going straight to physical therapy. Finding an infant feeding specialist, or a therapist that specializes in tongue tie may be the best first step to see if a tongue tie is impacting your child's gross motor development.

At next steps therapies we have formed a great connection with Gurgles to Giggles who is an infant reflux specialist, and love collaborating when a child is having both feeding and and physical therapy concerns. We have done workshop together and hope to do more, so look out for our joint workshops where you can learn more about this in depth!

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