Plagiocephaly is a condition in which the back of the head, one side of the head, or a combination of the back of the head and one of the sides is flattened. This causes the shape of the head to appear asymmetrical. It mainly occurs in infants, because their skull is soft to allow for brain growth in the early years of life. This results in pressure on one area of the skull over a prolonged period of time, causing an asymmetrical moulding. This does not cause any pressure on the brain and is not associated with any developmental or learning problems. It has no impact on the baby’s hearing, vision, or ability to chew. There are no other symptoms – it is completely cosmetic. As the skull plates are not fused together, only moulded into another shape, it does not require any surgical intervention. It is more commonly seen in premature babies as their skull is softer and they spend increased periods of time in one position while their medical needs are being cared for.
Plagiocephaly is mostly caused by the baby spending a considerable amount of time in any one lying position. It can also be due to spending too much time in the buggy or car seat. As the baby’s skull is soft, it will easily change shape if there is pressure on a particular area. In some cases, torticollis (tightness of the neck muscles) makes it difficult for them to change the position of the head. Please refer to our torticollis page for more details about this.
The earlier in life plagiocephaly is diagnosed, the better the chances of making a difference in facial appearance are. Detailed below are some of the ways you can prevent it.
The physiotherapist will check for any abnormal muscle tone; restriction in range of movement in the neck, arms, or legs; squint in the eyes; abnormality in the spine, hips, or feet; and other musculoskeletal or neurological signs. An assessment will be carried out to identify whether your child is developing age-appropriate gross motor skills.
Advice will be provided on how to position your baby during the day to encourage symmetrical head development. The physiotherapist will also demonstrate how to position your baby while carrying them. Exercises will be provided for working on the muscles of the head and neck, and stretches will be demonstrated if there is any tightness. Your baby will be assessed for the need of a helmet, which will have to be worn over a prolonged period of time for approximately 23 hours a day.