The differential diagnosis of posterior plagiocephaly: true lambdoid synostosis versus positional molding

Plast Reconstr Surg. 1996 Oct;98(5):765-74; discussion 775-6. doi: 10.1097/00006534-199610000-00001.


The diagnosis and treatment of posterior plagiocephaly is one of the most controversial aspects of craniofacial surgery. The features of true lambdoid synostosis versus those of deformational plagiocephaly secondary to positional molding are inadequately described in the literature and poorly understood. This has resulted in many infants in several craniofacial centers across the United States undergoing major intracranial procedures for non-synostotic plagiocephaly. The purpose of this study was to describe the detailed clinical, imaging, and operative features of true lambdoid synostosis and contrast them with the features of positional plagiocephaly. During a 4-year period from 1991 to 1994, 102 patients with posterior plagiocephaly were assessed in a large multidisciplinary craniofacial program. During the same period, 130 patients with craniosynostosis received surgical treatment. All patients were examined by a pediatric dysmorphologist, craniofacial surgeon, and pediatric neurosurgeon. Diagnostic imaging was performed where indicated. Patients diagnosed with lambdoid synostosis and severe and progressive positional molding underwent surgical correction using standard craniofacial techniques. Only 4 patients manifested the clinical, imaging, and operative features of unilambdoid synostosis, giving an incidence among all cases of craniosynostosis of 3.1 percent. Only 3 among the 98 patients with positional molding required surgical intervention. All the patients with unilambdoid synostosis had a thick ridge over the fused suture, identical to that found in other forms of craniosynostosis, with compensatory contralateral parietal and frontal bossing and an ipsilateral occipitomastoid bulge. The skull base had an ipsilateral inferior tilt, with a corresponding inferior and posterior displacement of the ipsilateral ear. These characteristics were completely opposite to the findings in the 98 patients who had positional molding with open lambdoid sutures and prove conclusively that true unilambdoid synostosis exists as a specific but rare entity. Awareness of the features of unilambdoid synostosis will allow more accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment of posterior plagiocephaly in general and in particular will avoid unnecessary surgical intervention in patients with positional molding.

MeSH terms

  • Cranial Sutures* / abnormalities
  • Craniosynostoses / diagnosis*
  • Craniosynostoses / diagnostic imaging
  • Craniosynostoses / surgery
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Humans
  • Posture
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Skull / diagnostic imaging
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed