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Other names: Flat head syndrome
Single suture synostosis.png
Synostosis variants seen from above, with a normal baby's head in the center for comparison
SpecialtyMedical genetics

Plagiocephaly, also known as flat head syndrome,[1][2] is a condition characterized by an asymmetrical distortion (flattening of one side) of the skull. A mild and widespread form is characterized by a flat spot on the back or one side of the head caused by remaining in a supine position for prolonged periods.[3]

Plagiocephaly is a diagonal asymmetry across the head shape. Often it is a flattening which is to one side at the back of the head and there is often some facial asymmetry. Depending on whether synostosis is involved, plagiocephaly divides into two groups: synostotic, with one or more fused cranial sutures, and non-synostotic (deformational). Surgical treatment of these groups includes the deference method; however, the treatment of deformational plagiocephaly is controversial.[4] Brachycephaly describes a very wide head shape with a flattening across the whole back of the head.

Signs and symptoms

The presentation in the affected individual usually includes ears that aren’t even and deformed skull[5]


Slight plagiocephaly is routinely diagnosed at birth and may be the result of a restrictive intrauterine environment giving a "diamond" shaped head when seen from above. If there is premature union of skull bones, this is more properly called craniosynostosis.[6]

The incidence of plagiocephaly has increased dramatically since the advent of anti-sudden infant death syndrome recommendations for parents to keep their babies on their backs.[7]

Data also suggest that the rates of plagiocephaly are higher for twins and multiple births, premature babies, babies who were positioned in the breech position or back-to-back, as well as for babies born after a prolonged labour.[8]


A developmental and physical assessment performed by a physician or a pediatric specialist is recommended. Often imaging is obtained if the diagnosis is questionable to see if the baby's sutures are present or not. If the sutures are not present, craniosynostosis may be ruled into question.[6]

It is also common for an infant with positional plagiocephaly to have misaligned ears (the ear on the affected side may be pulled forward and down and be larger or protrude more than the unaffected ear).[9]


Prevention methods include carrying the infant and giving the infant time to play on their stomach (tummy time), which may prevent the baby from progressing into moderate or severe plagiocephaly.[6]

Letting babies crawl may also prove to be crucial in preventing plagiocephaly as it strengthens babies' spine and neck muscles. Crawling also boosts gross and fine motor skills (large and refined movements), balance, hand-eye-coordination and overall strength.[10]

In addition, specialized mattresses are available to prevent plagiocephaly. The design of these mattresses is characterized by an ergonomic design that reduces pressure on the baby's head. It is very important that these mattresses are certified to guarantee their effectiveness.


The condition may improve to some extent as the baby grows, but in some cases, home treatment[11] or physical therapy treatment can improve the shape of a baby’s head.[6]

Early interventions (based on the severity) are of importance to reduce the severity of the degree of the plagiocephaly.[6] Diagnosis is most commonly determined through clinical examination.  In order to assess the severity of the condition and determine the best course of treatment, practitioners often use the Plagiocephaly Severity Scale.[12] This is a scale that can help practitioners evaluate the condition in a standardized way.[citation needed]

The course of treatment is typically based on the age of the child when the diagnosis  is made in conjunction with the severity of the diagnosis. If a diagnosis of mild to moderate plagiocephaly occurs before four months of age, repositioning therapy may be helpful. If the diagnosis is determined to be severe, practitioners will likely prescribe a cranial molding orthosis (helmet), which has the best results when prescribed between five to six months of age.[13]


Initially, treatment usually takes the form of reducing the pressure on the affected area through repositioning of the baby onto their abdomen for extended periods of time throughout the day.[14]

This may include repositioning the child's head throughout the day so that the rounded side of the head is placed against the mattress, re-positioning cribs and other areas that infants spend time in so that they will have to look in a different direction to see their parents or others in the room, re-positioning mobiles and other toys for similar reasons, and avoiding extended time sleeping in car-seats (when not in a vehicle), bouncy seats, or other supine seating which is thought to exacerbate the problem.[citation needed] If the child appears to have discomfort or cries when they are re-positioned, a neck problem should be ruled out.[15]


High quality evidence is lacking for cranial remolding orthosis (baby helmet) for the positional condition and use for this purpose is controversial.[16] If conservative treatment is unsuccessful, helmets may help to correct abnormal head shapes. These helmets are used to treat deformational plagiocephaly, brachycephaly, scaphocephaly and other head shape deformities in infants 3–18 months of age by gently allowing the head shape to grow back into a normal shape. This type of treatment has been used for severe deformations.[14]


Preliminary research indicates that some babies with plagiocephaly may comprise a high-risk group for developmental difficulties.[17][18][19] Plagiocephaly is associated with motor and language developmental delays.[20] While developmental delay is more commonplace among babies with plagiocephaly, it cannot be inferred that plagiocephaly is the cause of the delay.[21]


Ancient Greek πλάγιος (plagios) 'oblique, slanting', from PIE plag- 'flat, spread', from *plak,[22] and Modern Latin cephal- 'head, skull, brain', (from Greek κεφαλή)[23] together means 'flat head'.

See also


  1. Kadom, Nadja; Sze, Raymond W. (2010). "Radiological Reasoning: A Child with Posterior Plagiocephaly". American Journal of Roentgenology. 194 (3 Suppl): WS5–9. doi:10.2214/AJR.07.7121. PMID 20173180.
  2. "Doctor Finds Success In Treating Infants With Flat-Head Syndrome". CBS Los Angeles. April 30, 2013. Archived from the original on November 12, 2020. Retrieved November 11, 2013.
  3. Laughlin, J.; Luerssen, T. G.; Dias, M. S.; Committee On Practice Ambulatory Medicine (2011). "Prevention and Management of Positional Skull Deformities in Infants". Pediatrics. 128 (6): 1236–41. doi:10.1542/peds.2011-2220. PMID 22123884.
  4. Bridges, S J (2002). "Plagiocephaly and head binding". Archives of Disease in Childhood. 86 (3): 144–145. doi:10.1136/adc.86.3.144. PMC 1719136. PMID 11861226.
  5. Unnithan, Ajaya Kumar A.; De Jesus, Orlando (2022). "Plagiocephaly". StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing. Archived from the original on 15 May 2022. Retrieved 19 February 2023.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 Flannery, Amanda B. Kack; Looman, Wendy S; Kemper, Kristin (2012). "Evidence-Based Care of the Child with Deformational Plagiocephaly, Part II: Management". Journal of Pediatric Health Care. 26 (5): 320–331. doi:10.1016/j.pedhc.2011.10.002. PMID 22920774.
  7. "Plagiocephaly and related cranial deformities". Pediatric Views, Children's Hospital Boston. April 2010. Archived from the original on June 22, 2011. Retrieved November 11, 2013.
  8. "Plagiocephaly and brachycephaly (flat head syndrome)". NHS Choices. National Health Service. Archived from the original on 2012-04-12. Retrieved 2016-05-30 – via
  9. "Plagiocephaly (Flat Head Syndrome) & Reposition Therapy". Morningside Chiropractic Edinburgh - Chiropractor Edinburgh. 2014-07-31. Archived from the original on 2021-04-28. Retrieved 2021-04-28.
  10. Villaneda, Alene (2015-02-09). "The Learning Risks when Babies Skip the Crawling Phase". Integrated Learning Strategies. Archived from the original on 2020-09-29. Retrieved 2020-07-04.
  11. Gee, Edward; Hill, Christopher E.; Saithna, Adnan; Modi, Chetan S.; van der Ploeg, Irene D. (May 2013). "Treatment of deformational plagiocephaly and torticollis using a weight distribution ring: a report of three cases". Journal of Pediatric Orthopaedics B. 22 (3): 275–281. doi:10.1097/BPB.0b013e32835e38d6. ISSN 1060-152X. PMID 23358241. S2CID 26416944.
  12. Holowka, Mark A.; Reisner, Andrew; Giavedoni, Brian; Lombardo, Janet R.; Coulter, Colleen (May 2017). "Plagiocephaly Severity Scale to Aid in Clinical Treatment Recommendations". Journal of Craniofacial Surgery. 28 (3): 717–722. doi:10.1097/SCS.0000000000003520. ISSN 1049-2275. PMID 28468155. S2CID 25549515.
  13. Ditthakasem, Kanlaya; Kolar, John C. (March 2017). "Deformational Plagiocephaly: A Review". Pediatric Nursing. 43 (2): 59–64. ISSN 0097-9805. PMID 29394478.
  14. 14.0 14.1 Robinson, S; Proctor, M (April 2009). "Diagnosis and management of deformational plagiocephaly". J Neurosurg Pediatr. 3 (4): 284–95. doi:10.3171/2009.1.PEDS08330. PMID 19338406.
  15. Persing, J.; James, H.; Swanson, J.; Kattwinkel, J.; American Academy Of Pediatrics Committee On Practice Ambulatory Medicine (2003). "Prevention and Management of Positional Skull Deformities in Infants". Pediatrics. 112 (1 Pt 1): 199–202. doi:10.1542/peds.112.1.199. PMID 12837890.
  16. Goh, JL; Bauer, DF; Durham, SR; Stotland, MA (October 2013). "Orthotic (helmet) therapy in the treatment of plagiocephaly". Neurosurgical Focus. 35 (4): E2. doi:10.3171/2013.7.focus13260. PMID 24079781.
  17. "Unraveling How Craniofacial Conditions Affect Development". Seattle Children's Hospital. September 29, 2014. Archived from the original on August 10, 2016. Retrieved August 17, 2022.
  18. Miller, RI; Clarren, SK (February 2000). "Long-term developmental outcomes in patients with deformational plagiocephaly". Pediatrics. 105 (2): E26. doi:10.1542/peds.105.2.e26. PMID 10654986.
  19. "Flat-headed babies may face learning problems". CBC News. September 29, 2014. Archived from the original on August 12, 2020. Retrieved August 17, 2022.
  20. Martiniuk, Alexandra L. C; Vujovich-Dunn, Cassandra; Park, Miles; Yu, William; Lucas, Barbara R (2017). "Plagiocephaly and Developmental Delay". Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics. 38 (1): 67–78. doi:10.1097/DBP.0000000000000376. PMID 28009719. S2CID 39477708.
  21. "Developmental Delays Found in Children with Deformational Plagiocephaly". On the Pulse. 2012-12-24. Archived from the original on 2016-06-10. Retrieved 2016-05-30.
  22. "Plagio | Search Online Etymology Dictionary". Archived from the original on 2016-03-04. Retrieved 2022-08-17.
  23. "Cephalo- | Origin and meaning of prefix cephalo- by Online Etymology Dictionary". Archived from the original on 2017-07-12. Retrieved 2022-08-17.

External links