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What is Plagiocephaly and Does My Child Need a Helmet?

What is Plagiocephaly? 

  • Plagiocephaly, commonly known as flat head syndrome, is a condition where a flat spot develops on a baby’s head. Baby’s skulls are soft and can flatten easily when the head is in one position for an extended period of time, such as during sleep. Weakness and/or tightness of neck muscles can also lead to plagiocephaly if baby has difficulty moving their head fully, causing it to stay in one position or even be tilted (torticollis).  
  • Plagiocephaly has many levels of severity. More mild levels may only need a repositioning program and stretching/strengthening exercises, where more severe levels may need a helmet in addition to the repositioning and exercises.  
  • Plagiocephaly does not affect a baby’s brain development. If more severe cases are left untreated, it can possibly cause challenges for a child as they get older, such as poor fitting glasses and helmets.
  • If the underlying reason behind plagiocephaly is not treated, such as neck muscle tightness and weakness, then it could potentially lead to future asymmetrical gross motor delay. 

How to help my child’s plagiocephaly? 

  • Physical therapists can assess the current severity level of plagiocephaly in your child. 
  • Physical therapists can help develop a home exercise program to include repositioning and exercises to address any weakness and/or tightness. 
  • Physical therapists can also check head measurements to see if a child requires potential helmet therapy. Factors for a helmet include child’s age, severity of flattening, and if other parts of the head are affected, such as if an ear has shifted. 
  • Physical therapists work in conjunction with orthotists to help treat plagiocephaly. 

– Tammy Nguyen, PT, DPT


* See picture below of an overhead image of right sided flattening on the back of the head. The flatness on the right back side can lead to bulging on the right front side of the forehead and cause the right ear to move forward.