Colic and Torticollis - 3 Tips for Parents from a Pediatric Physical Therapist

What can pediatric physical therapy do to help your baby with colic, prevent torticollis, and find relief?

First, let’s start with some definitions:  

Physical therapists are highly trained and licensed healthcare professionals who are experts in the science of movement. Pediatric PTs identify and treat muscle, nerve, and bone issues contributing to movement problems in our most vulnerable population, our children.  Click here for more information.

Infantile Colic is defined by the American Academy of Family Physicians as “a benign process in which an infant has paroxysms of inconsolable crying for more than three hours per day, more than three days per week, for longer than three weeks. It affects approximately 10% to 40% of infants worldwide and peaks at around six weeks of age, with symptoms resolving by three to six months of age.”

Infants with colic often assume positions with flexed hips, lateral trunk shifts, clinched fists, and extended arms.  Some babies are unable to tolerate prone positions and are often placed in swings, bucket positions to promote head elevation for digestive needs.  Unfortunately, these positioning techniques may contribute to the development of Torticollis.

Torticollis is the shortening of the sternocladomastoid (or SCM) muscle in the neck. This muscle starts at the skull behind the ear and inserts into the clavicle (or collarbone) close to the center part of the neck. When this muscle is tight, it causes the head to tilt TOWARDS the side of the tight muscle and rotate or turn AWAY from the muscle in the opposite direction.  For more information on Torticollis, click here.

3 Quick Tips to Find Relief:

  1. Positioning:  

Hip and knee flexion help open the pelvis, improve digestion, and facilitate bowel movements.

With the presence of colic, caregivers battle finding positions that the baby can tolerate without increasing pain or vomiting.  This is when pediatric PT is so important.  Every child is different; however, hip and knee flexed positions may help.  For example, try bring your baby’s legs towards his chest while bending the knees.  Hold your baby in this position facing you or facing out. :  

2. Active Movement:

Positions against gravity like supported sitting and prone help infants develop neck muscles, improve neck and shoulder strength by weight-bearing through the arms and shoulders, and prevent muscle imbalances like torticollis.  Parents can use cause and effect games to help the baby turn his head and reach with his hands to the right and left side equally.  For more information on handedness and symmetry with movement, click here.


3. Avoid Buckets:

Back to sleep is important, but while your baby is awake, he needs to be able to move.  Placing babies in bucket positions like car seats and swings make it difficult for infants to rotate the head and move freely to change positions. This positioning can contribute to flat spots on the skull and torticollis.  The simple solution is removing your child from confining buckets. Try using a rolled up blanket behind your baby and have him play on his right and left side.  Use that same blanket roll under the baby’s chest with his arm and head on top to help make Tummy Time easier.


Pediatric Physical Therapists are experts in the science of movement and development with your child.  Boost Babies is here to help! Contact us today!

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