What is flat head syndrome? A chiropractic guide to prevention and treatment

A baby wearing a helmet to treat flat head sydrome

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If you’re like most parents, you want to do everything in your power to ensure that your child is healthy and happy. One of the things you may be wondering about is flat head syndrome. What is it? How can you prevent it? And if your child develops it, what are the treatment options?

Flat head syndrome, otherwise known as positional plagiocephaly, is a medical condition that can affect babies during their first year of life. It can occur in infants when the baby’s skull becomes flat on one or both sides due to pressure. Pressure on the head can happen when the baby spends too much time lying down or sitting in a car seat. Flat head syndrome may also be caused by neck muscle or bone issues, leading to poor posture and incorrect head positioning.

Positional plagiocephaly can cause vision, hearing, and brain development problems if left untreated. This article will discuss flat head syndrome, what causes it, how to help prevent it, and how chiropractic care can help.

What causes flat head syndrome?

Many different factors can cause flat head syndrome. A flat head baby is more likely to develop positional plagiocephaly if they spend a lot of time sleeping on their backs, are born prematurely, or have low birth weight. Some of the most common causes include:

  • Spending too much time in one position (e.g., lying down or sitting in a car seat).
  • Having difficulty turning their head from side to side due to tight neck muscles.
  • Birth position (e.g., breech position).
  • Premature birth.

What are the signs & symptoms of positional plagiocephaly?

The most common symptom of flat head syndrome is a flat spot on the baby’s skull. This flat spot can be visible when looking at the baby’s head from above. Other symptoms may include:

  • poor feeding
  • difficulty sleeping
  • irritability
  • torticollis (a condition where the neck muscles are tight and cause the baby to tilt its head to one side).

How is flat head syndrome diagnosed?

A physical examination typically diagnoses flat head syndrome. Your doctor will look for signs of a flat spot on the baby’s skull and will ask about the baby’s symptoms. If flat head syndrome is suspected, your doctor may order imaging tests such as an ultrasound or CT scan to check for brain development problems.

Positional plagiocephaly is not just a cosmetic issue

There are many conditions linked to plagiocephaly, including:

While flat head syndrome is not a severe medical condition, it may cause problems with brain development if left untreated. If you suspect that your baby has flat head syndrome, it is essential to talk to your doctor so that you can get the proper diagnosis and treatment.

What can you do to prevent flat head syndrome?

You can do many things to prevent flat head syndrome in your baby. Some of the most effective tips include:

Practice tummy time

When baby is awake, put them on their stomach to practice lifting their head. Holding the weight of their head will help strengthen the muscles in their neck and prevent flat head syndrome from developing.

Tummy time preparation tips

You can do a few exercises with your baby to help prepare them for tummy time.

One is to have them practice lifting their head while lying on their back. You can do this by placing a toy or object just out of their reach and seeing if they can raise their head to grab it.

Try the rugby hold (or the ‘clutch’) – Place your baby on their back on a flat surface with their head and shoulders slightly raised. Support their neck and head with one hand, and place your other hand underneath their bottom. Gently rock them from side to side.

Another exercise is to have them practice getting into the crawling position. You can do this by placing baby on their stomach and gently pushing down on their legs until they start to crawl.

Finally, make sure to spend time on your tummy while your baby watches. Seeing you do it will help baby know it’s okay for them to be in this position.

Switch up baby’s sleeping position

Alternate the positions that baby sleeps in and hold them so that they are not always lying down. Changing positions will help to reduce the pressure on the flat spot on their head and prevent the flat head syndrome from getting worse.

Avoid leaving your baby in one position for too long 

When baby is seated, lying down, or you are holding baby, make sure to switch up the position every so often.

Hold your baby more often

The more you hold your baby, the less time they will spend in a position that may contribute to flat head syndrome.

How is positional plagiocephaly treated?

There are a few different options for treating positional plagiocephaly in babies. Some of the more common treatments include repositioning, helmet therapy, and surgery.

Repositioning is often the first line of treatment for flat head syndrome. This simply means regularly moving your baby into different positions to help them regain their natural shape. You can do this by alternating which side of the crib your baby sleeps on, or by regularly moving them around while they are awake.

Helmet therapy is another common treatment for positional plagiocephaly. A custom-made helmet will be worn by your baby for a set amount of time each day to help reshape their head.

Surgery is a last resort option for treating positional plagiocephaly. This is only used if other treatments haven’t been effective. Surgery involves cutting and reshaping the bones of the skull.

How can chiropractic help flat head syndrome?

Chiropractic care can be an effective treatment for positional plagiocephaly. Chiropractors use gentle adjustments to the baby’s skull and neck to realign the bones and muscles. Adjustments can help improve posture and relieve pressure on the crown, reducing flat head syndrome symptoms.

Most babies with flat head syndrome also have some degree of torticollis. Torticollis is tight neck muscles that cause the baby to tilt its head to one side, further contributing to positional plagiocephaly by making it difficult to alternate resting positions or favouring one side. Treatment will help to improve the range of motion in the neck and allow the baby’s head to position correctly. Chiropractic care can help treat torticollis by gently stretching the muscles in the neck and releasing any muscle spasms.

If you think your baby may have flat head syndrome, it is essential to talk to your doctor. They will help diagnose flat head syndrome and recommend the best treatment option for your child.

If you are looking for an alternative or complementary treatment for flat head syndrome, chiropractic care may be right for you. At inLine chiropractic, we treat babies and children, including flat head syndrome, with gentle and competent chiropractic care at our clinic. Contact us today to book an appointment.

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