Are you aware that over half of us regularly suffer with backaches, neck pain or headaches? So why not seek out professional advice sooner rather than later to sort out those pesky niggles before it becomes a serious problem.
Take care of the back you have, because we have never heard of a replacement spine, have you?!
Here are our top 5 tips to help you to spinal health bliss:
Sitting Posture: Support your lower back when sitting down at your desk or at home, try not to curl up on the sofa, as it’ll twist your spine causing back ache and possible problems in the future.
Bedtime: Sleeping on your back (with a pillow behind your knees) is best for your spine. If you really want to sleep on your side, then put a pillow between your knees so you don’t twist into the recovery position.
Keep active! Get into the habit of taking a brisk walk daily. Try to make it fun or work out with a group like class or running group.
Pain is often a warning sign. If something is hurting, don’t ignore it. Particularly important this time of year when we start hitting that gardening again!
Ice. If you’re achy use an ice pack, wrapped up in a tea-towel for 5-10 minutes every half an hour to calm any swelling and promote recovery.
We hope this helps, but if you would like more specialist advice for your particular problem please do not hesitate to contact our principal chiropractor Philippa Oakley.
This time of year, we see an increase in people coming to see us for new episodes of back pain. These often follow a similar sort of story- carrying heavy bags of Christmas shopping, twisting awkwardly bringing the decorations down from the attic, or falling off ladders putting up festive lights.
If you’re struggling with back pain at Christmas, there are a few simple things that you can do to help yourself recover from an acute episode of back pain.
Many new patients come to us at this time of year searching for help and advice on sciatica pain relief, how to relieve joint pain, lower back pain, muscle pain and more. Is it the weather that makes it worse? Hard to say!
Numerous studies have shown slim associations between pain factors such as temperature, wind speed, humidity and barometric pressure and their effect on pain. Whilst the research is inconclusive, we know that for many of our patients, being in pain make us sensitive to weather changes and those with conditions such as osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis tend to be amongst the worst affected.
Chronic pain can leave our nerves more sensitive to stimuli, and if you’re feeling chilly, you’re likely to tense up against the cold which in turn can cause muscle pain and joint pain.
So aside from cranking up the thermostat, what can you do to stay warm?
Five secrets to staying warm this winter
Secret 1: Dress warmly and in layers.
You might be tempted to reach for a warm baggy jumper, but don’t forget to wear a close-fitting base layer. This will help keep that body heat close to your skin. Layers will help to trap other pockets of warm air to help insulate your body, which a single thick and heavy layer simply won’t do. This will help keep you warm and cosy, avoiding aches and pains as it gets colder outside.
Secret 2: Chilli Peppers
Capsaicin (the active ingredient in chilli peppers) is safe and effective when applied on the skin in a cream or rub. It can be helpful for soft tissue pain, back pain and more. Using muscle rubs is often easier than a hot water bottle but the warmth from thos will help too!
Note: Ask us about our Hotspot Muscle Rub next time you’re in clinic- it’s completely natural, more effective than comparative products and contains clove and devil’s claw (for reducing pain and inflammation) with capsicum to leave you feeling warm for hours afterwards.
Secret 3: Watch out for hot toddies.
Christmas is the season for mulled wine and hot toddies! Whilst these might make you feel warm and toasty for a brief second, alcohol causes your blood vessels to dilate. This brings that nice warm blood up to the surface of your skin, giving you a temporary warm glow. This” glow” is quickly replaced by a drop in core body heat as the warm blood is diverted away. If you then walk home after an evening in the pub, be aware that you’ll have a lot of warm blood on the surface of your skin, so you’ll lose heat very quickly and easily- which could be dangerous. (More here)
Secret 4: Relieve back pain by lining your shoes.
If you’re standing around in the cold, it’ll quickly creep up into your legs and give you the chills. This can aggravate ankle, knee and lower back pain so make sure you have an extra layer between you and the ground. You can pick up lambswool insoles from high street shoe shops and online.
Secret 5: Ditch the gloves, and opt for mittens instead.
Keep your fingers together in mittents. This means your fingers share their collective heat in an air pocket rather than being isolated as they are in gloves. Makes sense, doesn’t it? This is a great tip for people with arthritis or poor circulation.
How can we help?
Chiropractic care is gentle, safe and effective for a range of conditions and can help alleviate the pain and discomfort associated with a range of conditions including osteoarthritis of the knee and hip, sciatica, lower back and neck pain, and joint pain. We also provide you with specific advice and exercises you can use to help alleviate your condition.
Did you find this interesting? You might also want to read our blog on falls prevention, which covers who is at risk, how to avoid falls, and what to do if you do have an accident this winter. Read the blog here.
Plus, six top tips on how to boost your immune system! Read here.
Did you know that oral health and general health are closely linked?�
Gum disease may increase your risk of all kinds of other health complications, including diabetes, stroke, and heart disease. It has even been linked with problems in pregnancy and dementia.
All the more reason to take good care of those pearly whites!
What to give the person who has everything? How about a voucher for a Thai or Remedial Massage?
£50 for a one hour massage, or £30 for 30 minutes, it’s the perfect pre-Christmas treat.
Pop in to clinic to purchase your voucher.
The health watchdog NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) is to recommend that vaginal mesh operations should be banned from treating organ prolapse in England.
The documents are currently undergoing consultation prior to publication, and in them NICE said there were “serious but well-recognised safety concerns” and that “evidence of long-term efficacy [for implants treating organ prolapse] is inadequate in quality and quantity”.
Hypopressives is a specific form of training which targets the core and pelvic floor, providing a non-invasive method of treating pelvic organ prolapse. Hypopressives training can negate the need for invasive surgery such as vaginal mesh operations, which are increasingly shown to be unnecessary and ineffective.
Back pain during pregnancy- it might be common, but it isn’t normal!
With top tips on how to avoid back pain during pregnancy, along with information and advice on the causes of lower back pain and how chiropractic can help, this resource is a must-read for all expectant mums!
In this resource, we also discuss the other considerations for expectant mums, including nutritional advice, exercises, and other factors that could affect your pregnancy. Download it here.
Did you know… A growing body of research shows that drugs such as paracetamol, ibuprofen, gabapentin and diclofenac are largely ineffective for back pain.
Opioids (such as oral hydromorphone, oxymorphone, morphine, tramadol, tramdaol with paracetamol, tapentadol, oxycodone, fentanyl and hydrocodone) have also been found to be largely ineffective with high risk of side effects including dependence.
Research recommends manual therapy, exercise, and cognitive behavioural interventions… all of which can be provided by a chiropractor!
What sort of training do Doctors of Chiropractic have?
A chiropractic degree is a four year full-time course, the first two years of which covers topics that are almost identical to those covered in a medical degree, and range from basic sciences such as embryology, physiology and biochemistry, to clinical sciences such as pharmacology and radiology. The key difference between chiropractic and medicine degree programmes is the weighting of the subjects. For example, chiropractic students spend a far greater amount of time on anatomy than medical students, but do not study pharmacology in as much detail as chiropractors opted not to have prescription rights.
A huge focus of training is on practical and clinical work, covering orthopaedic and neurological examination, general diagnosis, clinical nutrition, anatomy and physiology, behavioural sciences, psychology and mental health, clinical imaging, joint biomechanics, functional management, paediatrics, obstetrics, geriatrics and pathology.
As part of their training, chiropractors also engage in prosection and study of cadavers to truly appreciate the structure of human tissues and the anatomy of the body. In addition, our training focuses heavily on perfecting the manual techniques used in practice. Practical classes begin with learning to assess joints, muscles and nerves, introducing methods of treatment alongside. These classes build from a very basic level to the most advanced manual techniques in current medicine.
Finally, after years of academic and practical development, chiropractic students enter into a clinical year. This year is based in a specially designed teaching clinic. Students are supervised throughout this process, and by the end of the year have delivered over three hundred treatments and consultations each.
But it’s not over yet…. After completing their clinical year and graduating, chiropractors then must complete a year of supervised practice before becoming fully-fledged Doctors of Chiropractic!!
Did you know… why Brad Pitt has such a defined jaw? It’s probably due to overdevelopment or hypertrophy of the masseter muscle.
The masseter is located in your jaw, and based on its size, it’s actually the strongest muscle in the human body. With all muscles of the jaw working together it can close the teeth with a force as great as 55 pounds (25 kilograms) on the incisors or 200 pounds (90.7 kilograms) on the molars.
Think of that as you’re tucking in to your Sunday lunch!
💭KNOWvember💭 ⚽ Mac’s Story ⚽
Mac came to see us in September because he’d had hip pain for over 7 months. As a keen footballer, it had stopped him from playing and was understandably getting him down. He had a severe limp and was struggling to walk and sleep
After a thorough assessment, we diagnosed him with sacroiliac joint dysfunction, a complex issue which is common in footballers, complicated further by an old quadricep muscle tear in his right thigh causing some issues!
We’ve treated him five times with a combination of joint adjustments, soft tissue work, kinesiology taping and rehab exercises. Here he is with Philippa today having popped in for his final appointment- We’re delighted he’s pain free and back on the pitch playing for Widbrook FC.
Chiropractic- it’s not just for back pain!
Your brain cannot feel pain.
When you stub you
r toe or touch a hot stove, your body releases chemicals that trigger signals to go up to the brain, telling the brain about the pressure from the stubbed toe, or the heat from the hot stove. Your brain then interprets that information and decides what to do with it- generally, it’ll tell you it’s painful so you stop touching the stove or rub your toe better!
Although the brain interprets these pain signals, the brain itself does not feel pain, only the structures around it can do that!
As a matter of fact, once inside the brain, surgeons can operate on the brain without anaesthesia. In one technique known as brain mapping, surgeons probe brain tissue while monitoring reactions like muscle movement and speech — all while the patient is awake!
You might have seen this poster on Philippa‘s treatment room wall. This chap wasn’t caught up in an explosion in a paint factory, this image shows a “dermatomal map” of the human body. (The colours are actually just for fun!🌈)
A dermatome is an area of skin supplied by a single spinal nerve. By testing the dermatomes in conjunction with a range of other neurological and orthopaedic tests, your chiropractor can identify not only where a problem might be in your spinal cord, but also what type of problem it is!
This rather fetching looking chap is called a “homunculus” and he’s a little man who lives in your brain. (Sort of!)
The homunculus is a model that shows how your brain sees your body. The cortical homunculus represents the importance of various parts of your body as seen by your brain. Most of us have very sensitive hands and lips, hence why these areas appear larger on the homunculus.
Did you know these “mental maps” can change with experience. People who read Braille (which is done with an index finger) develop large areas that respond to stimulation from the index finger. A homunculus mapped on the motor cortex of a Braille reader would have an absolutely enormous index finger!
The word “muscle” comes from the Latin for “little mouse”, musculus (the diminuitive of mus).
There are two theories behind a mouse becoming a muscle- firstly, that the Romans thought the movement of a contracting muscle resembled a mouse moving under a rug. Or secondly, that in a rather abstract way, a muscle looks a little like a mouse- with a round body (muscle belly) ending in a long thin tail (the tendon).
What do you think, can you see a resemblance? 🐁
Did you know… Kinesiology tape is just one of the many adjuncts that might be used during your chiropractic treatment. You can purchase Sporttape from us in clinic- find out how it works and why we use kinesiology tape for pain and problems. Read more here.
Did you know… Our acupuncturist Gillian is a former midwife and has specialist knowledge in helping couples undergoing fertility treatment.
Acupuncture may help boost fertility by:
– Regulating hormone function
– Increasing blood flow to the ovaries and uterus and helping to relax your muscles which can improve the chance of an embryo implanting.
-Tackling the causes of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) – a common cause of infertility
– Generally helping to relieve stress and make you feel more relaxed
Did you know…. Chiropractic is the third largest primary healthcare profession in the world after medicine and dentistry!
Did you know….
Although chiropractors are known as spinal health care experts, chiropractic care is also effective for:
– Ankle sprain
– Cramp and muscle spasms
– Elbow pain and tennis elbow that has arisen due to an ssociated musculoskeletal condition of the back or neck
– Headache arising from the neck (cervicogenic)
– Inability to relax
– Joint pains including hip and knee pain from osteoarthritis
– General, acute & chronic backache and back pain
– Generalised aches and pains
– Mechanical neck pain
– Migraine prevention
– Minor sports injuries and tensions
– Plantar fasciitis
– Rotator cuff injuries, disease or disorders
– Shoulder complaints (dysfunction, disorders and pain)
– Soft tissue disorders of the shoulder
Did you know… Your spinal cord has an incredible memory for pain. When you experience an instance of intense pain, such as an acute back pain episode, the neurons in your spinal cord will carry signals more easily to the nerves in your back for several days, making your back feel more sensitive during this time. This is the result of a molecule thought to be the precursor to memory, known as PKMzeta. Your spinal cord is especially sensitive to this molecule and “records” instances of pain as a result.
This can make us more susceptible to future episodes of pain when we repeat actions that previously lead to injury, as the spine “remembers” those signals and (much like anything that is practiced over time) gets very good at sending them.
As a gentle, safe, non-invasive way of dealing with back pain, look no further than chiropractic care.
Did you know… We’re often asked where the name “Acorn Health” comes from. It’s from the old English proverb “Mighty oaks from little acorns grow” meaning great things can come from small beginnings!
Our clinic started in 2014 with just Philippa practicing from a single room in Emsworth, and our ‘little acorn’ has grown and flourished into its own premises in the heart of Emsworth with a wonderful multidisciplinary team. This is all thanks to some hard work and the incredible support of our colleagues, friends, family, patients and the local community.
The proverb also conveys to us a sense of growth, health and vitality- and our belief that no matter what, everyone can achieve optimal health… Something we are privileged to see our patients achieve under our care.
The quicker you’re seen by your chiropractor, the faster you’ll get better.
Too often, people suffer in pain for months before seeing a chiropractor as their “last resort”.
Research consistently shows that early intervention and care has a profound effect on both how well and how quickly you’ll recover.
Our ethos is delivering effective, evidence-based healthcare that is uniquely tailored to you.
You deserve the very best healthcare available, and we’re continually reinvesting in ourselves, our knowledge base and our clinic to ensure we provide you with an exceptionally high standard of healthcare.
At our clinic you’ll be treated as an individual, listened to and respected every step of the way.
Did you know… Chiropractors are trained to treat all areas of the body, but specialise in assessing, diagnosing and managing conditions of the spine.
Before starting treatment, your chiropractor will do a full assessment, which will involve taking details about your condition, current health and medical history, and perform a full physical examination (to assess the function of your joints, nerves and muscles) to help make a diagnosis.
If you’ve seen a chiropractor before but it’s your first time seeing Philippa, you might be surprised at just how different her treatment and treatment programmes can be. Philippa often refers to her metaphorical “treatment toolbox”- the skills and treatment modalities she has to choose from which she tailors to your needs based on what’s wrong and what type of treatment you would prefer. This means each and every patient receives an entirely new and individual treatment programme, based on your requirements.
Stretching doesn’t work the way we think it does. At all. If you’ve ever spent your time gritting your teeth, pulling your arms or legs or (eek) neck into weird and wonderful positions to feel that pull, before noticing that a few hours later they’re back to where they were before, you’ll know that stretching doesn’t make your muscles stretchy. To understand why stretching isn’t the key to flexibility, we first have to understand a bit more about how and why our muscles stretch in the first place.
All humans have a reflex in our nervous system called the myotatic reflex. Believe it or not- you’ve probably had this tested without even knowing it. It’s the one we activate when we use a reflex hammer to hit just below your knee which makes your leg jump, or the one just above the elbow which does the same to your arm.
This reflex is the body’s pre-programmed response to a stretch stimulus in the muscle. When the muscle is stretched (as in when hit by the reflex hammer), an impulse is sent to the spinal cord to contract that muscle (and relax the muscle that works in opposition to it), causing the limb being tested to jump. These reflexes are what are called “monosynaptic” as there is only one junction for any signal to pass through before the body sends a response (the message going in->junction->message coming back happens in the spinal cord, bypassing the brain to make sure the response happens quickly) Think how rapidly your knee jumps when it’s hit by the reflex hammer- it’s usually just 1-2 milliseconds before the body responds.
We use these tests in clinic to check the integrity of your spinal cord and the peripheral nervous system, and they can be vital in helping us identify neuromuscular conditions. But that’s not what we’re talking about today. You might be wondering what purpose these reflexes have? Well, one of their most important functions is to prevent us from tearing our muscles/tendons/ligaments. Let’s look at the patella reflex to demonstrate this:
The patellar tendon is tapped just below the knee, which puts a rapid stretch into the tendon which attaches to your quadriceps muscle (the muscle in the front of your thigh). Muscle spindles (sensory receptors that pick up changes in the length of the muscle) pick up on this rapid increase in the length of the muscle, and very quickly send a message to contract your quadriceps in order to stop the muscle or tendon from over-stretching and causing damage. What happens when your quadricep contracts? Your lower leg comes flying up! If it doesn’t, it could indicate an underlying condition or disease affecting your muscles and nerves (which is why we always test them in clinic!)
What else do reflexes do? Well, they also stop us from falling over all the time. Stand up for a second. Now lean over. As far over to one side as you can go. What happens? The muscles on the opposite side to the lean become stretched, and that reflex is activated again, telling those muscles to contract in order to correct your posture and stop you toppling over. Now, this is a more obvious demonstration of how reflexes maintain our posture, and these postural corrections are generally carried out subconsciously (so we don’t spend all day feeling like we’re going to fall over!) It’s one of those things that we notice more when it stops working.
So what do reflexes have to do with stretching my tight muscles?
When we activate stretch receptors in the muscle, the message the body receives is to contract that muscle to prevent overstretch. So the usual static stretching that we do (for example when we bring our foot up behind us and grab on to it to stretch our quadriceps) puts our conscious and subconscious brain into war against each other. You’re consciously grabbing that foot to pull that muscle into a stretched position, and your stretch reflex (the subconscious brain) is automatically kicking in (as reflexes do) saying “No!” and tries to stop you from over-stretching and causing yourself an injury. What do we tend to do in this situation? Most people say “oooh that’s tight!” and promptly pull harder… Static stretching has actually been shown to decrease strength and athletic performance, while failing to reduce risk of injury to any significant degree.
Why does stretching feel so good then?
There are a few reasons why stretching might make you feel like you’re getting somewhere.
One: If you continually statically stretch your muscles, you can cause that stretch reflex to become less active. This can mean the muscles do lengthen, but only for a little while. Give it an hour or two for that reflex to go back to normal and the muscles will tighten back up again. This can cause problems for athletes- static stretching means the muscle is unable to contract properly because those muscle spindles aren’t functioning right. There’s plenty of research out there to show that static stretching before exercise can reduce your muscle strength, power, performance and joint stability.
Two: The more we stretch, the better we’re able to tolerate the sensation of “pulling” in our muscles. Yep, we’ve all said it “Ooooh, that’s a good stretch!” That temporary lengthening and release does feel good, but not for long.
Three: Pull a muscle or tendon enough, and you’ll begin to stretch your ligaments. Ligaments can, over time, then become stretched out to the point where they’re unable to function properly, resulting in joints that move too much, and are unstable. When ligaments get to this point, they might never regain their original length and strength.
Stretching- Will it get you out of pain?
In a nutshell, no. The nervous system rules the road. It’s totally in charge of everything that we do. If you’ve had treatment with me, you’ve probably heard me talk about the reasons why the brain can cause our joints to stiffen and feel like they’re “locked up”. It’s your brain’s way of stabilising an area that it perceives to be at risk of injury (whether that perception is founded in fact or fiction!) So on a very fundamental level, if your brain still perceives there’s an issue in that area, no amount of pulling on your muscles is going to change that. Equally,if the muscle is tight and sore because there’s a joint somewhere that’s misbehaving and preventing the muscle from functioning as it should, then stretching isn’t going to do much for that problem.
The process that tells us how tense our muscles should be at rest (known as “resting muscle tone”) is called the alpha-gamma feedback loop and it’s a lot more intelligent than we give it credit for when we’re yanking on our body to get it to stretch. In order to reset an over-enthusiastic resting muscle tone, we need slow, controlled movement which provides vital sensory feedback, allowing this system to reset itself. This makes it fairly clear that pulling our muscles into, or beyond, their stretch capacity does little other than provide a temporary increase in muscle length which then rebounds when those muscle spindles reset, giving you little more than temporary relief from pain and probably serving to prolong your discomfort by making your muscles tighter overall.
So how do we make muscles stretchy without stretching?
First we have to look at what’s causing the muscle tension in the first place. Let’s look at the hip joint as an example. It’s got anywhere between 170 to 200 degrees of flexion and 40-60 degrees of extension, so is well over the 180 degrees needed to do the splits. So aside from structural changes in the hip joint, is mainly restriction in the soft tissues that stops most of us from being able to pop the splits whenever we fancy. No amount of stretching or “bouncing” into the splits is going to get you there- for whatever reason, the muscles you need to do the splits are activating way before their supposed maximum load and your brain is telling those muscle spindles to stop before you hurt yourself.
We have to stop thinking that we can teach our muscles anything. Our muscles don’t call the shots- our brain does. If a muscle gets tight, it’s because the brain is telling it to contract. So if stretching isn’t the answer, what is?
Chiropractic care to correct the cause of the problem- We find, assess, diagnose and treat the underlying reason for the muscle tension. If you don’t know why they’re tight, how can you possibly get them better?
Foam rolling. It’s not just rolling about on the floor (although that helps!) Foam rolling activates a different receptor in the muscle (called the Golgi Tendon Organs) which sit at the junction between your muscles and tendons. When we foam roller correctly, we stimulate these GTO’s which encourage the muscle spindle activity to calm down, helping to decrease muscle tension, reduce pain and improve function.
Functional movement. Simply put, warm up based on movements you actually do in real life. How often do you actually grab your neck and pull it into a weird angle in real life? Not often. If you’re a runner, instead of doing straddle-stretches or the good old foot-behind-your-bum-and-pull stretch for the quads, try lunges, high knees and skipping instead to replicate the movement you’re going to do.
So there you have it. Stretching tight muscle tissue will only make it tighter. Find and correct the reason for the tension and enjoy super-supple muscles instead!
If your child has flat head syndrome, you might be wondering what to do about it and how to help your little one. Let’s find out more about the condition and the various gentle, conservative treatment options available for your baby.
What is flat head syndrome?
Flat head syndrome is a name commonly used to refer to brachycephaly and plagiocephaly- both conditions can also be referred to as “positional skull deformity”. Plagiocephaly is where one side of the back of the head becomes flattened, which may result in the front of the head protruding on the opposite side, and the ears positioned asymmetrically. Brachycephaly is symmetric flattening of the back of the head, which can cause the ears to appear prominent and the head appear wide.
There has been a significant increase in the number of babies presenting with flat head syndrome possibly due to the introduction of the “Back to Sleep” (now known as “Safe to Sleep”) positioning recommendations aimed at reducing the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Since the early 1990’s parents have been advised to let babies sleep on their backs, and whilst this has been successful in reducing the number of cot deaths, it has lead to an increase in the number of babies with deformational plagiocephaly and brachycephaly.
What causes flat head syndrome?
It can happen during your pregnancy with uterine constraint (when your baby doesn’t have enough room in the womb- especially common in the case of multiple births such as twins) or as a result of birth injury from forceps or vacuum assisted delivery. More commonly, it occurs after birth and is associated with congenital torticollis (or ‘wryneck’), abnormalities of the bones in the spine, neurological impairment (problems affecting the nervous system) or forced sleeping position.
The associated torticollis can occur due to strains of the sternocleidomastoid, a muscle in the
front of the neck, which can occur during difficult deliveries. This muscle trauma the baby’s head into an awkward position, thus exacerbating (or in fact causing) the skull deformity. Wryneck may also cause issues with breastfeeding, as the baby is unable to comfortably turn the head to latch properly- if your baby can’t latch to one side or can’t turn their head to one side, they may have torticollis.
Premature babies are at a higher risk of developing skull deformities as the cranial bones become harder and stronger during the last 10 weeks of pregnancy. Premies may also spend longer periods of time in neonatal ICU on a respirator to help develop their lungs, as a result their heads are maintained in a fixed position.
More commonly, babies are born with a normal head shape which gradually becomes flattened or altered as a result of the position they lie in.
What we look for when diagnosing flat head syndrome
We don’t just look for flattening at the back of the head:
One ear may be placed slightly further forward than the other
One eye may appear larger than the other
One cheekbone may be more pronounced than the other
There may be a subtle (or not-so-subtle) head tilt
The child or baby may have reduced neck movement and are unable to rotate their neck themselves away from the flattened side of the occiput.
In older children, they may have delayed motor development or have failed to achieve certain developmental milestones
Why does it matter if my baby has a flat head?
It’s not just about appearance. Most advice seems to be that once baby’s hair grows out, skull deformities will be “hardly noticeable.” There is a growing body of research which suggests that children with plagiocephaly or brachycephaly need to be monitored for developmental delays or deficits. One study states that “Infants with deformational plagiocephaly comprise a high-risk group for developmental difficulties presenting as subtle problems of cerebral dysfunction during the school-age years.” Another study found that children with plagiocephaly were more likely to require special education services in school than their non-affected siblings (34.9% vs. 6.6%, respectively). The services they required included speech therapy, occupational therapy and physical therapy.
Whilst it is important to note that these findings do not imply that developmental plagiocephaly causes developmental problems, it may instead serve as a marker for developmental risk.
In addition, skull deformities may contribute to headaches, migraines, painful teething, jaw and dental problems. It is therefore recommended that treatment takes place as early as possible, in order to restore normal head shape.
One of the most commonly reported concerns from parents of children with flat head syndrome is their physical appearance and the possibility that he or she will be teased, embarrassed or otherwise stigmatised because of their condition. Parents often first notice the condition through the appearance of uneven bald spots on the back of their little one’s head.
There are numerous treatment options available, and if you are looking for gentle, non-invasive options for your little one there are several to consider. Hands-on treatment and exercises will help to alleviate the strain to the sternocleidomastoid muscle causing the torticollis and encourage normal neck movement in addition to helping to correct the skull deformation. Monitoring for neurodevelopment problems helps to ensure your baby achieves all their developmental milestones.
There is evidence to support the use of chiropractic care in managing flat head syndrome, which states “there was both a statistically and clinically significant reduction in plagiocephaly measurement for this cohort of infants after a course of chiropractic care. As this was an observational study, this cannot be interpreted as cause and effect. However, these results encourage further research, particularly an RCT to investigate the effect of chiropractic care on plagiocephaly in infants.”
Products are available which can be helpful , including pillows for the cot (most are not recommended for use when baby is unsupervised) and car seat, beanie caps, slings and wraps to help reduce the amount of time baby spends on their back.
Cranial molding headbands or helmets are what is often recommended. Helmets can be expensive, uncomfortable (they need to be worn 23 out of 24 hours in the day) and can cause excessive sweating and skin problems due to pressure or friction spots. Fortunately the designs for these are being improved to help make them more comfortable for little one.
How can I help my baby at home?
Tummy time is of the utmost importance. This helps develop shoulder girdle strength which is important for motor milestones such as crawling and eventually walking. In addition, it reduces the time spent lying on their back.
Repositioning: This is best started as early as possible and is most effective with babies under four months of age. Alternating the position your baby lies in at night can also help. Babies tend to prefer to face outward into the room, and being creatures of habit we may be tempted to always place them the same end of the crib. As such, routinely changing this is important.
Place cot toys and mobiles on the opposite side to the ‘flat’ side to encourage your baby to spend time on the side that is not flattened.
Position your little on the opposite end of the changing table when changing nappies. This helps in the same way altering their position in bed does, by encouraging them to look to the opposite side whilst being changed.
Ask your practitioner to show you exercises to help baby at home, such as gentle neck stretches for the sternocleidomastoid for babies with torticollis.
Bialocerkowski AE, Vladusic SL, Wei Ng C (2008) Prevalence, risk factors, and natural history of positional plagiocephaly: a systematic review. Dev Med Child Neurol 50(8):577–586
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