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Pediatric Torticollis Surgery Treatment & Management

  • Author: Amulya K Saxena, MD, PhD; Chief Editor: Marleta Reynolds, MD  more...
Updated: May 19, 2015

Medical Therapy

Medical management of torticollis involves conservative treatment.[13] Sternocleidomastoid fibrosis spontaneously resolves in the vast majority of infants. A large prospective study demonstrated that controlled manual stretching is safe and effective in the treatment of congenital muscular torticollis when a patient is seen before the age of 1 year.[14, 15]

Physiotherapy may be recommended; however, little evidence shows that this alters the course of the condition if the patient is older than 1 year. Evidence-based guidelines for the use of physical therapy in patients with congenital muscular torticollis have been developed by the Section on Pediatrics of the American Physical Therapy Association.[16]

Published data demonstrate that patients with a thicker sternocleidomastoid, a lower birth weight, and a history of breech delivery have a longer rehabilitation duration.[17, 18]

Kinesiology taping is another approach that is sometimes adopted in conservative management.[19] When applied on the affected side, it has an immediate effect on the muscle function scores for the muscular imbalance in the lateral flexors of the neck.

Botulinum toxin type A has been injected into the sternocleidomastoid for the treatment of congenital muscular torticollis in pediatric and adult patients.[20] However, modest benefit with improved range of motion has been observed in very few patients.

Only about 4-5% of patients are surgically treated, generally after the age of 1 year.

Successful bilateral pallidal stimulation has been reported in a patient with Meige syndrome and spasmodic torticollis.[21]


Surgical Therapy

Patients whose pathology does not resolve after 12 months of physical therapy or who develop facial asymmetry or plagiocephaly during the follow-up period should undergo surgery to achieve the best cosmetic result.[22, 23] In delayed cases, additional surgery may be needed for the best cosmetic and functional result.


Intraoperative Details

Surgery is performed with the patient under general anesthesia. A 3- to 4-cm transverse skin incision is made about 1 cm over the sternal and clavicular origins of the affected muscle. The platysma is carefully divided along the line of incision to avoid injury to the external jugular vein. The two heads of the sternocleidomastoid are dissected free. The muscle is divided with diathermy to prevent bleeding. The platysma is then sutured with absorbable 4-0 skin suture, and the skin is closed with continuous 4-0 nonabsorbable skin suture.

Surgical treatment of torticollis by means of an endoscopic or minimal access approach has been reported. Sasaki et al described surgical correction of muscular torticollis via endoscopic tenotomy of the sternocleidomastoid.[24] Tokar et al described the use of a para-axillary subcutaneous endoscopic approach (PASEA) to treat congenital muscular torticollis and found it to be an alternative worth considering for surgeons with experience in pediatric minimally invasive surgery.[25]

Ekici et al described an approach to surgical management of congenital muscular torticollis that used the Z-plasty technique.[26]



Follow-up should be continued until the torticollis resolves completely, until head and neck movement normalize, and until cervical and thoracic scoliosis is resolved in older children.



Hematomas may develop because of inadequate hemostasis during surgery. Incomplete division may cause the condition to persist.


Outcome and Prognosis

Recurrent torticollis after surgery is rare, with a frequency of approximately 5%.[27] Even in patients older than school age and those who have finished growth, sufficient unipolar or bipolar release of the sternocleidomastoid and intensive postoperative care can generally be expected to yield satisfactory treatment results.[28]

Secondary effects of untreated torticollis include the following:

  • Plagiocephaly
  • Facial hypoplasia
  • Musculoskeletal effects

Plagiocephaly is an asymmetric skull deformity in infants that is caused by flattening of one occiput that leads to secondary flattening of the contralateral forehead. After the torticollis resolves, the plagiocephaly resolves; however, several years may pass before it disappears.[29] Although torticollis can predispose to plagiocephaly without synostosis (PWS), torticollis appears to result from plagiocephaly in a large proportion of cases of plagiocephaly with scoliosis.[30]

Facial hypoplasia is inhibition in the growth of the mandible and maxilla due to muscle inactivity. Clinically significant facial hemihypoplasia develops over 8 months; however, it is obvious in patients at the age of 2-3 years. Facial hypoplasia improves as the child grows, after the torticollis resolves.[31]

Musculoskeletal effects include the compensatory ipsilateral elevation of the shoulder, as well as cervical and thoracic scoliosis. Wasting of additional muscles in the neck may be present as a consequence of sternocleidomastoid inactivity.

Congenital muscular torticollis has also been reported to be a significant risk factor for later neurodevelopmental conditions (eg, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder [ADHD], developmental coordination disorder, language impairment, and autistic spectrum disorder), with disorders presenting at different stages of development.[32]

Contributor Information and Disclosures

Amulya K Saxena, MD, PhD Consultant Pediatric Surgeon, Department of Pediatric Surgery, Chelsea Children's Hospital, Chelsea and Westminster Healthcare NHS Fdn Trust, Imperial College London, UK

Amulya K Saxena, MD, PhD is a member of the following medical societies: International Pediatric Endosurgery Group, British Association of Paediatric Surgeons, European Paediatric Surgeons' Association, German Society of Surgery, German Association of Pediatric Surgeons, Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine International Society, Austrian Society for Pediatric and Adolescent Surgery

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Specialty Editor Board

Mary L Windle, PharmD Adjunct Associate Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Chief Editor

Marleta Reynolds, MD Professor of Surgery, Northwestern University, The Feinberg School of Medicine; Head, Department of Surgery and Surgeon in Chief, Head, Division of Pediatric Surgery, Ann and Robert H Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago

Marleta Reynolds, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Pediatric Surgical Association

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Additional Contributors

Diana Farmer, MD Professor and Chief of Pediatric Surgery, Vice Chair, Department of Surgery, University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine; Surgeon-in-Chief, UCSF Children's Hospital

Diana Farmer, MD is a member of the following medical societies: Alpha Omega Alpha, American Academy of Pediatrics, American College of Surgeons, American Pediatric Surgical Association

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.


Nicholas A Shorter, MD Professor of Clinical Surgery and Clinical Pediatrics, State University of New York Downstate University; Division Chief, Department of Surgery, Division of Pediatric Surgery, State University of New York Downstate Medical Center

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

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Appearance of torticollis as a result of sternomastoid fibrosis in a young child.
Surgical view of sternomastoid fibrosis shows the thyroid gland (1), the inferior thyroid artery (2), fibrosis of the sternal part of the sternocleidomastoid muscle (3), the brachiocephalic trunk (4), and the normal clavicular part of the sternocleidomastoid muscle (5).
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