The Difference Between Plagiocephaly and Craniosynostosis

Many people are unaware of the differences between plagiocephaly and craniosynostosis, and what causes these common conditions. Although they both affect the shape of the skill, quite often, their symptoms can be confused with one another. Plagiocephaly, also known as flat head syndrome, is more common, with severe cases affecting approximately one in 25 infants. 

The condition is caused by external pressures on the skull, resulting in the flattening of the baby’s head. In most cases, if caught early, the head shape will improve as the baby grows, and when external forces are reduced through repositioning techniques and less time spent in car seats or bouncy chairs. However, in some cases where moderate to severe plagiocephaly exists, correction may require treatment with a STARband™ helmet.  Our orthotists encourage ongoing repositioning, and tummy time, as it helps by taking pressure off any flattened area.

Craniosynostosis is less common, and a more serious condition usually affecting one in 3,000. The condition is caused by gaps between the bones in the head (sutures) fusing or closing early. This can cause pressure in the brain and if left untreated, can inhibit the growth of the brain and cause complications in the future. Craniosynostosis can only be treated with surgery, but following endoscopic procedures, a STARband™ helmet is often used to regain a correct head shape.

The difference between plagiocephaly and craniosynostosis can be very difficult to tell apart visually.  However, here are some key signs to look out for (as recommended by the NHS):

•    A hard ridge along the sutures (bones).
•    Disproportionate growth of the head compared to the rest of the body.
•    The fontanelles (soft spots between the bone plates) may feel different or seem to have disappeared.

Intracranial pressure (ICP) is another common symptom, which may not become noticeable until an infant reaches 4 – 8 years of age. This is the pressure that builds up in the brain as a result of the irregular shape of the skull and can manifest in persistent headaches, visual problems and an unexplained decline in the child’s academic abilities.

Left untreated, ICP can cause vomiting, irritability, unresponsiveness, swollen eyes and difficulties breathing and hearing, so it’s important to take your child for a check-up if you notice that something is amiss.

Tummy Time & Repositioning
Tummy time is the time babies spend on their front during the day whilst awake. There are lots of benefits to supervised tummy time including stronger neck and shoulder muscles, which help babies to roll, sit and crawl as they grow. 

Starband Treatment
If you have tried tummy time or repositioning and the flattened areas do not show signs of improvement, our orthotists offer the world leading STARband™ helmet/cranial remoulding orthosis treatment to gently guide growth and shape.
Throughout the treatment, our paediatric orthotists provide support from the initial consultation, right through to treatment and aftercare.

If you feel at all concerned about your baby’s head shape then call us to arrange a free consultation. One of our specialist orthotists will conduct a thorough evaluation, talk to you about your baby’s history and discuss any necessary treatment programme.