Factors influencing outcomes of the treatment of positional plagiocephaly in infants: a 7-year experience

J Neurosurg Pediatr. 2017 Mar;19(3):273-281. doi: 10.3171/2016.9.PEDS16275. Epub 2017 Jan 13.


OBJECTIVE Following institution of the Back to Sleep Campaign, the incidence of sudden infant death syndrome decreased while the prevalence of positional skull deformation increased dramatically. The management of positional deformity is controversial, and treatment recommendations and outcomes reporting are variable. The authors reviewed their institutional experience (2008-2014) with the treatment of positional plagiocephaly to explore factors associated with measured improvement. METHODS A retrospective chart review was conducted with risk factors and treatment for positional head shape deformity recorded. Univariate and multivariate analyses were used to assess the impact of these variables on the change in measured oblique diagonal difference (ODD) on head shape surface scanning pre- and posttreatment. RESULTS A total of 991 infants aged less than 1 year were evaluated for cranial positional deformity in a dedicated clinical program. The most common deformity was occipital plagiocephaly (69.5%), followed by occipital brachycephaly (18.4%) or a combination of both deformities (12.1%). Recommended treatment included repositioning (RP), physical therapy (PT) if indicated, or orthotic treatment with a customized cranial orthosis (CO) according to an age- and risk factor-dependent algorithm that the authors developed for this clinic. Of the 991 eligible patients, 884 returned for at least 1 follow-up appointment. A total of 552 patients were followed to completion of their treatment and had a full set of records for analysis: these patients had pre- and posttreatment 2D surface scanner evaluations. The average presenting age was 6.2 months (corrected for prematurity for treatment considerations). Of the 991 patients, 543 (54.8%) had RP or PT as first recommended treatment. Of these 543 patients, 137 (25.2%) transitioned to helmet therapy after the condition did not improve over 4-8 weeks. In the remaining cases, RP/PT had already failed before the patients were seen in this program, and the starting treatment recommendation was CO. At the end of treatment, the measured improvements in ODD were 36.7%, 33.5%, and 15.1% for patients receiving CO, RP/PT/CO, and RP/PT, respectively. Univariate analysis showed that sex, race, insurance, diagnosis, sleep position preference, torticollis history, and multiple gestation were not significantly associated with magnitude of ODD change during treatment. On multivariate analysis, corrected age at presentation and type of treatment received were significantly associated with magnitude of ODD change. Orthotic treatment corresponded with the largest ODD change, while the RP/PT group had the least change in ODD. Earlier age at presentation corresponded with larger ODD change. CONCLUSIONS Earlier age at presentation and type of treatment impact the degree of measured deformational head shape correction in positional plagiocephaly. This retrospective study suggests that treatment with a custom CO can result in more improvement in objective measurements of head shape.

Keywords: CO = cranial orthosis; ODD = oblique diagonal difference; OR = odds ratio; PT = physical therapy; RP = repositioning; SD = standard deviation; SIDS = sudden infant death syndrome; brachycephaly; cranial; craniofacial; infant; plagiocephaly; positional skull deformity.

MeSH terms

  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Orthotic Devices / statistics & numerical data*
  • Plagiocephaly, Nonsynostotic / diagnosis*
  • Plagiocephaly, Nonsynostotic / therapy*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Time Factors
  • Treatment Outcome