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  • Writer's pictureMegan Cottrell

Resolving Head Shape Concerns Through Craniosacral Therapy: Plagiocephaly, Torticollis and More

Updated: Nov 9, 2023


Fixing headshape, flat spots and plagiocephaly through craniosacral therapy without helmets

Plagiocephaly — in addition to being a mouthful, the diagnosis can be extremely stressful for any parent. My baby has to wear a helmet? For how long?! Whew. That’s a lot for any new parent to handle, but there are gentle, alternative treatments like craniosacral therapy that can correct the plagiocephaly, or flat-head syndrome, more holistically or speed along conventional treatment.


At Craniosacral Center of Grand Rapids, we have treated numerous babies with a diagnosis of plagiocephaly and helped them correct their head shape through gentle bodywork, while also relaxing underlying body tension that can cause babies to have a flat spot on their head in the first place.


At their two month well-child appointment, the pediatrician told Elizabeth that her son would likely need a helmet and referred them to a specialist for an appointment. Elizabeth had just begun bringing her son to Kelly because he had a tongue tie, but also mentioned the head shape concerns their pediatrician had. By the time the appointment with the specialist arrived about a month later, his head was noticeably rounder, to the point that the specialist said no special treatment was needed.


“I was so happy to learn he didn't need a helmet! So very, very happy,” said Elizabeth. “I loved working with Kelly and was always looking forward to the next appointment to learn more! She is so full of knowledge.”


Because we’ve seen so many families for plagiocephaly, we’ve recently created a 10-Week Head Shape Bundle Treatment plan so that your infant can get the dedicated, consistent care that they need to gently correct and round out the skull bone placement. Read on to learn more.


What Causes Plagiocephaly? How Does Underlying Body Tension Often Lead to Plagiocephaly?


Deformational or positional plagiocephaly is caused by consistent pressure on one part of an infant’s growing skull, causing a flat spot to appear. It’s similar to how a pumpkin growing in a pumpkin patch usually has a flat spot where it was lying on the ground, but is round elsewhere. That pressure can be from sleep position or a baby’s position in baby holding devices, such as bouncers, car seats, swings and more.


With doctors now advising parents to put children on their back to sleep to avoid SIDS and other breathing difficulties, along with more and more baby-containing devices on the market, plagiocephaly has become more common in recent years.


In addition to sleep position, plagiocephaly can also be caused by another condition with a difficult-to-pronounce name — torticollis. Torticollis is the shortening or tightening of the front neck muscles on one side, causing the baby's head to tilt. Because the baby’s head is at an angle, one side of the head gets more consistent pressure, causing a flat spot on that side of the head. Torticollis can also be related to a tongue tie, because when a baby has a tongue tie, midline tension usually causes them to lie with goal post arms with a curved spine, and head tilted to one side, causing the muscles on one side of the neck to shorten and tighten.


The treatment for plagiocephaly and torticollis can be unpleasant for babies and their families - wearing a helmet 23 hours a day for three to six months and/or stretching your baby’s neck muscles to overcome torticollis. Most parents report their baby cries and resists being stretched, even very gently. So while stretching can be an effective treatment, many parents don't want to do it or find it impossible to do with their child. Babies and parents can both have a hard time adjusting to wearing a helmet and would prefer not to have to use one. Luckily, there are alternative treatments available, such as craniosacral therapy.


Alice’s Story: Head Shape Complications from Positioning In-Utero and Birth


Head shape issues can also be present from birth. Alice had a difficult birth with her son, who was born face up with his arm over his head with his elbow up, resulting in a significant asymmetry in his head shape with a sharp ridge on one side of his head. Not only were they concerned about the irregularity of his head, but he also wasn’t gaining weight, spent so much time crying and very little sleeping. Alice was desperate for help, and her midwife referred her to Kelly primarily for the head shape concerns.


“She told me, ‘Just go in with an open mind. It’s going to look like she isn’t doing anything, but it’s amazing, you’ll see,’” said Alice.


Within one visit, they saw significant positive results.


“It was like a miracle,” said Alice. “We saw such dramatic results - the size of the bump on my son’s head was at least 50 percent better. And he fell asleep in his car seat and slept for four hours straight. He had never slept that long ever, and usually slept only if he was touching me.”


They did six visits in three weeks, in which time her son’s head seemed to fully resolve and round out, which was later confirmed by a specialist.


“We did go get a consultation, just to be sure, but they said what they could feel was so mild it wouldn’t be corrected by a helmet anyway,” said Alice.


In addition to resolving their head shape worries, Alice’s son dramatically changed both his temperament and his weight gain. Although his weight gain concerns were dramatic enough to label him as “failure to thrive,” he started gaining weight and is now consistently in the 90th percentile. He was no longer constantly crying and would sleep peacefully for longer stretches.


“I remember watching my son as Kelly worked on him. I could feel his peace. He felt so calm,” says Alice. “Anytime I have met mothers that were struggling, I always recommend they go to see Kelly.”


How Does Craniosacral Therapy Work to Resolve Plagiocephaly and Head Shape?


When we think about plagiocephaly, we often think about the bones of the skull needing to be placed in the correct shape, but in reality, we also need to consider the condition of the soft tissues in the head, neck and spine. The bones of the skull are responding to the push of outside pressure or the pull of tension in these tissues.


Craniosacral therapy uses gentle pressure — less than the weight of a nickel — to release the tension in the tissues and create space for the skull bones to find the right space where they belong.


Although we recommend receiving treatment as soon as possible, we’ve even seen great progress in older children and adults with head shape difficulties. A mother brought in her child, around age 8, who seemed to have a visible thumb-sized divot near the crown of his head. Although we were unsure if we could help, we saw him for several weeks in a row, and we all marveled when we were no longer able to even find where the divot had been.


Although we welcome anyone to come in for an initial session and consultation, we have seen more consistent results with babies who have a flat spot on one side of the head, rather flattening in the entire occipital base. However, these babies can still benefit from craniosacral therapy, but may take a bit longer.


We often see families who would like to avoid their child needing a helmet, who come in just when their doctor notes that treatment might be needed in the future or for those waiting for a referral to a helmet specialist. However, we’ve also helped families who are going through the helmet process to support the soft tissues releasing for optimal balance in the body. Craniosacral can amplify the work of the helmet and shorten treatment times.


What Treatment Plan Do You Recommend for Head Shape and Plagiocephaly?


Our treatment plan for head shape involves a consistent approach to build and keep momentum. Unlike tongue tie, where we stack visits very frequently and then space them out, we’ve found that consistent bi-weekly appointments for 10 weeks is the most helpful approach for head shape correction. Although changes are not usually noticeable during the appointment, parents often report seeing a difference a day or two later. Although sometimes it’s difficult to see the change from week to week, we see great progress over the whole treatment period, with parents often reporting to us that the head shape issue has completely resolved, baffling doctors or family members who insisted medical treatment would be required.


For families who want to address their baby’s head shape problems through craniosacral we have created a 10-week head shape treatment bundle that allows families to invest in the entire treatment plan and save 5 percent on their treatment cost. The bundle cost is comparable or less than the cost of a treatment helmet, which often runs several thousands of dollars.


As always, it’s very important to find a craniosacral therapist who has ample experience treating babies and young children. Without this experience and knowledge, you may find your treatment time frustrating because the therapist doesn’t know what to expect or understand how to work with a baby — allowing time for nursing, changing positions as necessary, and knowing how to read a baby’s signals of distress or distrust. As with tongue tie, it’s also very helpful to have a provider who has successfully treated clients for head shape and plagiocephaly before, as their experience can be invaluable to the journey and ensures better results.


We also refer our clients to the work of Dr. Jonathan Evans, an Australian osteopath who offers an online course for parents with videos on how to help babies with a flat head shape with a routine of holds, props and stretches that are gentle and effective.


We also highly recommend tummy time as an important strategy for strengthening and reversing the effects of pressure on the head.


Book an Appointment for Craniosacral Therapy for Plagiocephaly or Head Shape Issues


Interested in finding out more about craniosacral therapy for head shape? We’d love to meet you and talk to you about the process. To start, book a “child initial consult” appointment on our booking page, which is located under the “craniosacral therapy appointment” tab. If you choose to continue with treatment, the cost of your initial consultation will be deducted from the treatment bundle price.


Got questions? We’d love to hear them. Feel free to call us anytime at (616) 433-3003 or reach out via email at hello@craniosacralgr.com.


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