Some reading this will already be aware that my eight month old daughter has been undergoing physiotherapy since late August to correct an asymmetry in her skull. H was a bigger baby than both her brothers and it is thought that while in the womb she was cramped into a particular position that prevented her muscles in her neck and shoulders developing properly. This cramped position is also thought to be the cause for her asymmetry in her developing skull. Thankfully, after speaking to a doctor at our local medical centre about this and the fact she had trouble turning her head, we were sent to a consultant paediatrician who prescribed the physiotherapy. After 4 months of physio, H was much improved, her skull was less markedly asymmetrical and she had no trouble moving or rolling.
Even so, our paediatrician was not totally happy and referred us to a specialist hospital dealing with these kind of paediatric cranial problems, to see if helmet therapy was necessary in H’s case. In that appointment H was seated in a foam seat that gripped her legs, holding her still, and I held her steady while her head was imaged using a non-contact 3D scanner without laser radiation in just 1.5 milliseconds. The whole process took little more than five minutes. Looking at the scans it soon became very clear that H required further treatment, the consultant measuring a few key points on the various scan pictures to proved H’s head was about ten degrees off centre. Based on the three dimensional data collected by the scan the physicians worked out the ideal shape of H’s head and then created a helmet for her to wear over the next three to six months, while her skull is still in its most rapid stage of development. This should gently rectify the shift in her skull and return it to the ideal. The production of the helmet took about 2 weeks and H had her fitting a few days ago and must wear the helmet 23 hours a day during her treatment time. The helmet has to be carefully cleaned during the one hour of non-use.
To be clear, this is not simply a cosmetic issue. Should H’s skull asymmetry be allowed to develop it could likely cause her severe back, neck, shoulder, jaw or spine problems in the future. The skull naturally develops in a roughly symmetrical state for a reason. Those without symmetrical skulls often develop back, neck and shoulder issues as their body tries to compensate for the skull’s lack of symmetry. The teeth and jaw, even eyesight, can also be affected, causing pain and discomfort. With all this information we did not hesitate in agreeing that H undergo this gentle treatment.
On their website, Cranioform (the manufacturer of the helmet H is wearing) detail a typical story of a child requiring this kind of treatment:
A typical story in 7 acts
1. The head usually has a normal shape at birth.
2. The child prefers a particular side after birth.
3. Repositioning attempts do not help.
4. Head deformity is recognised after a few weeks.
5. The baby’s doctors say, ‘He’ll grow out of it.
6. Physiotherapy, osteopathy, etc. are indicated.
7. By the 6th or 7th month, it is a bit better.
Then the shape stops changing. Help! What can we do now?
Except for number 5 – in fact our doctors were nothing but supportive and professional toward H – this is H’s story. In fact, out of all three of our children, she was the one born with the most perfect head. Looking back now this makes total sense. Our boys arrived, as babies do, with strange looking heads after their squeezing through the birth canal, that popped back into shape in the days and weeks after their birth. H’s head, in contrast, was squeezed into a perfect shape during birth and naturally reverted to an asymmetrical one afterwards. Physiotherapy has helped her a great deal, slowing the development of her asymmetry and greatly strengthening her neck, back and shoulders but by seven months it was better but not fixed and we were asking exactly that question – What can we do? Helmet therapy was the answer.
So H is now wearing her helmet and seems to be coping really well. They are incredible little things made of super hardened, extremely light foam; a world away from the heavy brown things I remember kids wearing when I was young. We’ve even ordered some custom made stickers to decorate her helmet, including one with the slogan: Every princess wears a crown.
For those of you with an interest, you can watch a video of the whole process here, including the scan and fitting of a Cranioform helmet, the children on the news footage going through all the steps H did. The video is in German but you can easily tell what is happening. You can also read all about the treatment on their English language site, including photos of successful helmet therapy treatments, information on how the scan data is collected and used and even a brief discussion of the history of gentle head modelling.
As for H, we have follow-up appointments every four to six weeks to undertake growth adjustments on the helmet and track the success of the treatment. The next six months will be busy but more than worth it in the long run.