What is plagiocephaly?
Plagiocephaly is, quite simply, a flat portion of the head on a baby’s developing skull. Baby’s skulls are soft and malleable while they are still growing. Flatness can occur on one side, causing asymmetry, or at the back of the head where the head may remain symmetrical.
Why does plagiocephaly occur?
Until around nine to 18 months of age, a baby’s skull is soft and malleable, and even has a hole in the top! After this time frame, the hole fuses closed and the skull hardens. While the skull is malleable, a flat spot may occur if the baby spends a long time lying flat on their back, or with their head on one side. There are many reasons for plagiocephaly, and it is important to understand the root cause of the problem, so it can be diagnosed and treated in the best way, as soon as possible.
Sometimes there is no reason for plagiocephaly, and the flat portion of the head disappears on its own, as the baby develops gross motor skills and spends less time in lying on their back.
Other times, a baby may spend longer lying on their back than their peers, leading to flattening at the back of their head. This could be due to gross motor delays, and the baby reaching milestones such as rolling and sitting later than expected. There may be an underlying cause for this gross motor delay, and this should be assessed by a physiotherapist.
Occasionally, the baby has a preference to look to one side, and this can lead to asymmetrical flattening on one side of the head. The cause for this could be some tightness in the neck muscles, making it uncomfortable, painful or impossible (depending on the severity) to look to the unfavoured side. This condition is called torticollis, and is usually resolved with stretches and positioning.
Sometimes, the baby may develop asymmetrical flatness due to a weakness on their right or left side of their body. There are many potential reasons for a one-sided weakness, and your physiotherapist may refer you to a paediatrician if this is the case.
Whatever the reason for your baby’s plagiocephaly, it is important to establish the cause and start treatment as soon as possible, for the best outcome. If treated too late, the baby’s head may have fully developed and hardened, and changing the head shape will not be possible.
Physiotherapy for plagiocephaly
Physiotherapy largely depends on the cause of the plagiocephaly, but our team of superbaby experts are extremely experienced in assessments for this condition. Treatment may focus on making tummy time easier and more tolerable, developing gross motor skills and strength through play, education on positions for carrying and sleeping, neck stretches, or activation for weak muscles. Every activity and exercise is made fun through games, anticipation and FUN!
Baby Michael is a now 12-month-old smiley baby who loves crinkly crunchy toys! He was assessed by the team at Bumble Bee Physio at six months for plagiocephaly at the back of his head. Michael worked with the team to improve his gross motor skills, which were slightly delayed. He made a full recovery, his head shape improved to normal, and his gross motor skills have now caught up! We think his delays might have been due to his four-year-old brother passing him every toy he wanted, meaning he did not need to move!
Say hello to our friendly administrator Hannah, to find out if we can help your baby!