The head is a sensitive part of the body, especially for infants. If your baby has been diagnosed with plagiocephaly (an abnormally shaped head), you want care from an experienced team of specialists you can count on.

Children’s Health experts at University of Missouri Children’s Hospital are here to work with you and your child to individually assess him or her and craft an individualized treatment plan specific to your child’s circumstances.

Diagnosing plagiocephaly with STARscanner™

The University of Missouri Center for Craniofacial Anomalies now has a STARscanner™ Laser Data Acquisition System in our clinic. This FDA-approved device allows us to quickly, safely and easily perform a 3D surface scan of a baby’s head shape. Having this technology lets children visit their doctor, have their scan, and see the orthotist who will be involved in the fabrication and adjustments of the helmet ­­­– all in one place and at one visit.

Treatment for plagiocephaly

At MU Health Care, we can probably treat your baby by modifying his or her sleep positioning. Our goal is to relieve pressure on the flat area of the head. By using positioning devices, such as foam wedges, and by changing the orientation of your baby’s crib, pressure is relieved and the shape of the skull will gradually correct itself.

If your baby has related ocular (eye) problems, we may need to perform eye muscle surgery to correct the head tilt. If your baby has torticollis, he or she may see a physical therapist to undergo special stretching that will correct the head tilt. In some cases, surgical release of the tight neck muscle is required.

If these treatments are not effective in treating your child’s deformational plagiocephaly, he or she may need molding helmet therapy. Our specialists will fit your baby for a helmet that gently reshapes the skull. The helmet must be worn 23 hours per day for several months. You will bring your baby to our clinic at regular intervals, where our orthotist will continue to monitor progress and adjust the helmet. Helmet therapy is most effective if it is used before approximately 10 months of age.

In extremely rare cases of very severe deformities, our team performs surgical reconstruction of the misshapen skull.

Frequently asked questions about plagiocephaly

Get answers to commonly asked questions about this condition.

What are the causes of plagiocephaly?

Plagiocephaly can be caused by premature fusion of the cranial sutures, called  Craniosynostosis or, much more commonly, by external forces that deform the soft infant skull. These external forces may be due to:

  • Abnormal head posture that is secondary to a problem with the eyes or the muscles of the neck
  • Pressure from repetitive sleep positioning
  • Pressure on the skull in utero

Posterior deformational plagiocephaly (flattening of the back of the head) has become quite common since the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that infants be positioned on their backs to sleep.

Is this condition painful?

No, deformational plagiocephaly causes no symptoms.

Are there different types of deformational plagiocephaly?

In general, plagiocephaly can affect the forehead or the back of the head.

Lots of babies have slightly abnormal head shapes; how do I know when it is something to worry about?

Abnormal head shapes in babies are quite common. In general, abnormal head shapes can be caused by either premature fusion of the cranial sutures or by deformational plagiocephaly, which is much more common.

Deformational plagiocephaly does not cause any increased pressure on the brain and is not associated with any danger to the neural development of the child.

If your baby has an abnormal head shape, you should raise this concern with your pediatrician.

Who gets deformational plagiocephaly?

Deformational plagiocephaly can occur in any infant. Anterior plagiocephaly (flattening of the forehead) occurs most commonly on the left side because babies most commonly lay towards their left sides while in utero. The heads of babies with anterior plagiocephaly often engage in the maternal pelvis rather early. Deformational plagiocephaly is also more common in multiple pregnancies, in which there is less space for the growing skull. Moreover, there may be molding of the skull that occurs from compressive forces during normal vaginal delivery.

Repetitive sleep positioning can cause deformational plagiocephaly. If your baby sleeps in the same position repeatedly, his or her skull will become flattened on that side. In addition, some eye-muscle imbalances cause infants to tilt their heads to achieve binocular vision, and this head tilt can also result in deformation from repetitive positioning. Similarly, torticollis (tightness of the sternocleidomastoid muscle in the neck) can cause a head tilt with the same result.

Patient Photos (click to be taken to gallery)