Could Physical Therapy Help Treat Your Infant's Plagiocephaly?

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If you've noticed one or more flattened spots on your infant's head, you may have already made an appointment with your child's pediatrician to discuss the causes and treatment options. Deemed "plagiocephaly," this skull-shaping condition is a common one among infants and is often harmless, despite its sometimes jarring presentation. 

However, even this relatively harmless condition can require treatment to prevent it from growing worse or compromising your child's development as he or she grows older. Read on to learn more about the causes of plagiocephaly and whether physical therapy, along with a corrective cranial device, could provide the help your child needs to develop a perfectly-shaped skull. 

What are some causes of plagiocephaly? 

In many cases, plagiocephaly appears during the first few months of life, while your infant's skull bones are very pliable and vulnerable to forming into whatever shape to which they're most often exposed. 

Diagnoses of plagiocephaly have crept steadily upward since most medical professionals have begun to recommend the "back to sleep" approach, putting infants to sleep on their backs to reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). While this has reduced SIDS rates, it also means babies are more likely to sleep with the back of their skull pressed up against the mattress, potentially creating a large flat spot. 

Premature infants can be at higher risk for plagiocephaly because their small skulls are even more pliable than those of full-term infants and may remain pliable longer. While a full-term infant may only be at a higher risk of plagiocephaly for the first six or so months of life, an infant who was born two months early may have the same risk level for eight months or more, increasing the odds that a complication may develop. 

How is plagiocephaly treated?

In many cases, the first step in treating plagiocephaly involves the fitting of a special helmet. This helmet is designed to support your infant's head while he or she is sitting or lying in a reclined position, helping prevent the sections of your child's head that remain in contact with the car seat or bed from flattening further. 

Because your child's bones, including the cranial bones, are growing at a rapid rate during his or her first few years, this helmet is often all that is needed to slowly shift the flattened bones into place and provide a healthier and more aesthetically-appealing skull shape.

Plagiocephaly that appears later in infanthood or during the toddler years may instead be craniosyntosis. This condition differs from plagiocephaly in that it occurs after the pliable cranial bones have already fused together. Depending upon the severity of the craniosyntosis and its projected effect on your child's mental and physical development, your pediatrician may recommend surgery to move these bones apart and place them in a more appropriate position.  

Is physical therapy a good treatment option for plagiocephaly? 

Another treatment option for plagiocephaly includes physical therapy or a series of special exercises designed to strengthen certain muscles in and around the head and neck. Babies who spend a large part of their days on their backs in a crib or sitting up in a rocking glider may suffer mild atrophy of their neck muscles due to lack of use.

This makes it harder for your baby to hold his or her head upright, which exacerbates the flat spots created when your baby rests his or her head against a surface, potentially spiraling into a more serious problem without some targeted efforts to improve your baby's muscle tone. 

While plagiocephaly can be a frightening diagnosis for any new parent, it doesn't need to be a serious one; by seeking treatment early and focusing on building up your baby's strength and head control, you'll be able to rest assured that your child will be running, jumping, and playing with his peers on the same timeline and with the same lack of physical restrictions they enjoy. For more information, contact companies like Burgman Chiropractic Clinic PC.