Does Repositioning Therapy Correct Flat Head Syndrome?

Posted by in flat head syndrome, infants

Many parents are advised to try repositioning therapy to correct flat head syndrome (AKA plagiocephaly) during the first few months of life. But does it always work? This article takes a look at the research that has been carried out to date to shed some light on this controversial issue.

Just how effective is repositioning therapy?

According to the NHS website:

“Your baby’s skull should correct itself naturally over time if you take some simple measures to take pressure off the flattened part of their head and encourage them to try different positions.”

Repositioning theray - tummy time

Tummy time

They go on to recommend various techniques including tummy time, repositioning of toys in the cot and physiotherapy, and stipulate a time period of six to eight weeks before an improvement is likely to be seen.

This is sound advice – up to a point. Repositioning therapy is often effective in preventing head shape deformities from getting worse and can even be used to achieve an acceptable degree of symmetry in mild cases of flat head syndrome.

However, repositioning is not always adequate, particularly for moderate and severe cases, which often require helmet therapy in order for a full correction to be achieved.

A recent study compared the long-term outcomes of repositioning and helmet therapy, and found significant differences between the two treatment groups, with the helmeted group demonstrating a greater degree of improvement.

This is not the only evidence in support of helmet therapy. In research published earlier this year, repositioning was found to achieve complete correction in 77.1 percent of cases, compared with 94.4 percent of patients treated using helmets as a first-line therapy and 96.1 percent of those who received helmets after repositioning had failed.

Whilst the NHS advises that helmets improve the symmetry of a baby’s skull, they go on to say:

“The use of helmets and headbands is controversial, and they’re not available on the NHS. This is because there’s not enough evidence to show whether a helmet or headband will make any improvement to the shape of your baby’s head if the above measures are taken early on.”

The recent evidence clearly undermines this advice, which was last reviewed in April 2014. Repositioning may be effective as a means of prevention, particularly in mild cases, but it is certainly no match for helmet therapy in the correction of flat head syndrome.

So what should you do?

The advice on the NHS website is correct insofar as repositioning can help relieve pressure on the affected area and minimise flattening during the first few weeks of life. So as a parent, you should begin by repositioning your baby.

If this has failed to make the difference that you had hoped for by the time your child reaches four or five months of age, it might be worth booking an appointment at your nearest plagiocephaly clinic. The clinician will assess the severity of the head shape deformity and let you know whether or not helmet therapy might be of benefit.

Helmet therapy

Helmet therapy

If you go ahead with treatment, the helmet will need to be worn for around 23 hours a day over a period of three to six months. This will gradually correct the deformity by directing growth towards the flattened areas, resulting in a more even, symmetrical head shape.

As scary as this may sound, provided you choose a reputable clinic, plagiocephaly helmets are proven to be a safe, effective and pain-free treatment. However, it’s important to act early on, as at around 12 – 14 months of age infants start to move around more independently, the soft bones in the skull begin to harden and helmet therapy becomes ineffective.

After this age, flat head syndrome can only be corrected through surgery, which is greatly discouraged given the risks involved.

If your baby still has a flat head following a course of repositioning, Technology in Motion can provide you with a free, no obligation assessment to evaluate the severity of the deformity and advise you on the best possible course of action.

Call 0330 100 1800 to book an appointment at your nearest clinic or visit www.technologyinmotion.com for more information on Technology in Motion and the service that they offer.