It has been increasingly common to see babies under the age of one year sporting some colorfully decorated hard shell helmets with Steelers decals or slogans such as “Fixing a Flat”, but if your child is not among them do you realize what these helmets are for?
Plagiocephaly, sounds like a scary word, especially if it’s your own child receiving the diagnosis. But, there is no need to panic. Plagiocephaly means that there is a flat spot on your child’s head caused either by positioning in the womb, a difficult delivery or being positioned consistently with the baby’s head resting in a certain direction which causes pressure and flatness on that area of the skull.
The good news is that not only is plagiocephaly very common, it’s also very treatable. In fact in Early Intervention, we have seen a substantial increase in the number of babies with plagiocephaly (and torticollis-literally meaning “twisted neck” or tightness in neck muscles, as the two usually go hand in hand) ever since the Back to Sleep campaign began in 1994. Plagiocephaly is mostly cosmetic, although if plagiocephaly is not addressed and treated early, in addition to skull flattening, in more severe cases it can also cause facial asymmetries such as a cheek or ear being pushed slightly forward or problems with jaw alignment. When babies are referred early enough for physical therapy services to correct torticollis and plagiocephaly and in turn go to the Children’s Hospital Cleft Cranio-Facial Clinic the head shape can be easily corrected by the baby wearing a custom fitted helmet, such as those made by the pediatric cranial helmet specialists at DeLaTorre Orthotics and Prosthetics, Inc. Re-positioning and simple stretches and carrying positions demonstrated by a physical therapist will help alleviate the torticollis. There is no evidence that plagiocephaly causes any medical or internal issues with the brain. We love to get babies referred as early as possible, meaning ideally under age 6 months, since there is a window for correcting the flatness of a baby’s head due to the skull bones fusing around age one year.
Now, if you are one of the many parents who immediately Google things, you may have read some recent research stating that helmets do not help correct head shape and you may be skeptical about obtaining a helmet for your child. This research has been shown to be faulty, and we have had great success with the babies TEIS has worked with in EI who have received helmets and followed the proper wearing schedule. You can read a more detailed report on the efficacy of helmet therapy for children with plagiocephaly, written by Sean Greer, CO, a pediatric orthotist and cranial helmet specialist with DeLaTorre Orthotics & Prosthetics in Pittsburgh HERE AT THIS LINK.