Background: Although helmet therapy is widely accepted in the treatment of severe positional plagiocephaly, treatment regimens, especially regarding starting age, are controversial. This study investigated the importance of starting age to optimize the management of helmet therapy.
Methods: Sixty-two infants with severe positional plagiocephaly were enrolled in this prospective longitudinal study. Twenty-four started helmet therapy before 6 months of age (group 1) and 38 were older than 6 months (group 2). Cranial diagonal measurements were taken. Resulting differences and Cranial Vault Asymmetry Index values were compared and categorized by age at initiation of therapy. The Mann-Whitney U test was used for statistical analysis.
Results: Duration of therapy was significantly shorter in group 1 (14 weeks) compared with group 2 (18 weeks) (p = 0.013), with significantly better outcomes. The Cranial Vault Asymmetry Index in group 1 was reduced to a normal mean value less than 3.5 percent. Infants in group 2 did not achieve normal values (index value, 4.5 percent) (p = 0.021). The relative improvement in asymmetry was significantly better in group 1 (75.3 percent) compared with group 2 (60.6 percent) (p = 0.001). After 4 to 11 weeks of treatment, group 1 already showed a better absolute reduction (p < 0.001) and a better relative reduction (p = 0.002).
Conclusions: Optimal starting age for helmet therapy is months 5 to 6 of life, and early recognition of infants in need is essential. Delaying the onset of treatment significantly deteriorates the outcome. The still often-practiced regimen of starting helmet therapy after physiotherapy should be replaced by a combined therapy in severe cases.
Clinical question/level of evidence: Therapeutic, II.