Giving birth is exhausting, thrilling, and terrifying. You entrust a team of medical professionals with the important task of bringing your child into the world safely. But medical professionals are human and sometimes they make mistakes.
A small percentage of babies suffer torticollis as a result of trauma that occurs at birth. Although the condition is treatable and not life-threatening, it can be mentally and financially stressful for the parents.
Torticollis (also called “twisted neck” or “wry neck”) is a condition in which a person holds their head tilted at an odd angle (usually a right or left tilt) or has difficulty turning their head.
There are two types of torticollis:
Acquired torticollis and congenital torticollis have different causes.
Let’s take a closer look.
Acquired torticollis is typically caused by:
The causes of congenital torticollis, on the other hand, aren’t fully understood. However, medical experts believe congenital torticollis occurs when the muscle that runs along each side of the neck (the sternocleidomastoid muscle) becomes short and tight.
There are a few reasons this may occur:
In far less common cases, congenital torticollis may occur as a symptom of another underlying condition, including:
It’s estimated that roughly 90% of people will exhibit at least 1 episode of acquired torticollis throughout their lifetime.
On the other hand, the estimated incidence of congenital torticollis is fewer than 1% of all live births.
More specifically, the incidence of congenital torticollis is as low as 0.3% in uncomplicated deliveries and as high as 1.8% in patients with breech presentation. Congenital torticollis is also more common among first-born children.
It’s not always easy to determine the cause of your child’s torticollis. In some cases, the condition is genetic and has nothing to do with the actions or inactions of your healthcare team during labor and delivery.
However, if your child’s condition was caused by trauma experienced during labor and delivery (for example, your doctor failed to perform a timely cesarean section delivery or placed undue pressure on your baby’s sternocleidomastoid muscle) you may be able to recover damages by filing a medical malpractice lawsuit.
To establish a medical malpractice claim, you need to prove the following 2 elements:
Congenital torticollis can usually be treated by completing exercises designed to stretch the sternocleidomastoid muscle. Stretching exercises generally include turning the baby's neck side to side so that the chin touches each shoulder, and gently tilting the head to bring the ear on the unaffected side down to the shoulder.
Additionally, there are some small steps you can take as a parent to help your child overcome torticollis:
If the above exercises don’t work, you may need to consider surgery.
Surgery is typically not done until your child reaches preschool age. The common surgical procedure will lengthen your child’s sternocleidomastoid muscle. Although it may sound intimidating, the surgery is relatively simple and your child can generally go home the same day.
If your child developed torticollis as a result of a medical error during birth, you may be able to receive financial compensation to pay for the treatment.