A Case Study: Helping Baby Roman
By Danny Burke
I was driving home from my satellite office, thinking my day was over, when I received a call from a frantic Mom. She said she had been referred to me and that she needed help for her six week old son. I remember mumbling something like "Did you say... six weeks old?" There was something in her voice that really got my attention, like she really needed some hope.
She told me he had torticollis of the neck on the right side. There was a very strong muscle contraction that slanted his head severely to the right, visibly causing him misery.
At 36 weeks during the pregnancey, it was discovered he was breech. They decided to do a cesarean birth at almost 39 weeks. During the birth, they found Baby Roman's skull had taken the shape of Mom's ribs and he was was wedged in extemely tight. The birth freed him from the situation, but the trauma from the stuck position in the womb most likely led to the torticollis.
The contraction was so strong that it also involved muscles inside the mouth and possibly the tongue, making it hard to give him the proper nutrition because of his discomfort when swallowing. Roman’s Mom had been searching for help ever since he was born. She said they had been to several Medical Doctors and have been bringing him to a Chiropractor weekly, but nothing had really helped. And now it was the Naturopathic Doctor sending her to me.
I told her that I normally need to be able to communicate verbally with my clients, but that there are two types of passive movements - Means Whereby (MW) and Kinetic Mirroring (KM) - with which we could try to help her son. I told her to meet me in my office in thirty minutes. "Let's just see what happens,” I said; not knowing if I could make a difference, but willing to try.
Mom and Dad entered my office with Roman crying and agitated. I have five kids of my own and I decided to work with him as if he were my son. I had set up my table with my two softest pillows and a towel on top, thinking it would be easier to reach underneath him while he was on his back. I could see the agitation in his face, but I was genuinely shocked when I first lightly touched that thick, rope-like muscle on the right side of his neck. I carefully cradled my hands around his head and slowly moved him further into his contraction, right ear toward his right shoulder. I will never forget what happened next. His entire body instantly relaxed and a big relief overtook him. I sensed excitement as Mom and Dad hovered over me, but I was too focused on Roman to look up. Ever since this child was born, there had not been one minute, not one second, of relaxation, and I can only imagine the toll this had taken on the whole family!
I decided to keep him in this position of relaxation for a full minute, then very slowly started to move the muscle into length by sliding his head away from his shoulder. We gained about an inch and a half of "new territory", raising his head about halfway to vertical. Roman remained relaxed with his new length. I next decided to try MW, but I carefully stayed inside our "range" of comfort, feeling for tension as I helped him move into contraction and then release. After a few short minutes of gently moving back and forth, while lightly touching and tapping the "rope," we tried a second round of KM. I again gently held him as we moved into the contracted side again for about 30 seconds, then slowly eased him towards length. He kept going, going, going… to almost vertical! I let him rest right there, with his head almost straight for the first time in his brief life, relaxed and simply looking up at the three of us. Mom and Dad (and me) were ecstatic! After another minute of MW in his now much larger "safe" range, I declared that the session was over. It had lasted less than 10 minutes, although I don't think I officially timed it.
I handed Baby Roman to his Dad and while I was picking things up, I heard them both gasp with excitement again. "What did I miss?" I asked. Before this, they told me, Roman had only been able to lay his right cheek on his Dad's chest whenever he was being held. He would try to turn his head the other way but just could never do it, and it would frustrate him. Now, for the first time ever, he succeeded in placing his left cheek on his Dad's chest and was resting comfortably. What a nice change. I explained to them that I wasn't sure how long the positive effects of our session would last. I thought it would be best if I trained them just a little bit so they could start working with Roman at home. (I definitely would not want to be coming over at midnight!) I taught them the concepts of what we had just been doing and I encouraged them to try it themselves whenever necessary. Even though I didn't think they needed to come for another session, Mom insisted on setting an appointment for one week later.
This was a short five minute session. We followed the same movements as we had during the first session. I had the impression that Roman was doing much better already. He still held his head slanted laterally to the right, but he moved well and was able to bring his head to vertical, as well as rotate left and right. The tight muscle on the right side of his neck seemed smaller and softer. During this session, I spent more time teaching Mom how to work with Roman. Instead of just telling her how to do it, on this occasion I had her get onto my table so that she could experience the movements for herself. I think this helped them to be more confident while working with their son. At the end of this second session, I actually didn't think more work on my part was necessary, but Mom insisted on another appointment one week later.
This did end up being our final session. Circumstances hadn’t permitted a session the week after Session 2, so this session was two weeks later and Roman was now ten weeks old. He had just kept getting better and better. The "rope" muscle was feeling even softer and smaller. All of his movements looked really good, and Mom and Dad reported easier movement and better moods. At the end of the session, I told Mom I didn't think any more work was needed on my part, that they couldn’t provide themselves.
As I said, I didn't think that they needed to come back at all after the first session. But Mom thought he needed more work, and insisted on the other sessions. He was actually moving fine, just holding his head to the right out of habit after that. I now realize that the second and third sessions were really for Mom's benefit and her comfort working with her son.
As Mom put him in the car seat/carrier, she noted that this was the first time he did not complain or cry while being put into the car seat. In the past, she explained, the way the car seats are designed nowadays, they restrict head movement. Baby Roman hated the position this forced his head to be in. He cried every single time he was in the car seat, every single minute, of every car ride. Another good breakthrough!
Some final thoughts...
Both of Roman's parents were so thrilled with Somatics that they decided to become clients themselves and each spent time on my table. This allowed me to see Roman as time went by as well. In the beginning, I was not sure if the subcortical techniques of MW and KM would effect a lasting change but, in fact, Roman completely normalized around month five or six.
After reflecting on this, I believe he self-pandiculated the muscles for the final fix. The strong contractions of torticollis had not allowed him to recognize that he had muscles on the right side of his neck. He only felt pain. MW and KM helped him to realize that these, too, were viable muscles, like all the other muscles in his body. That seemed to get him over the hurdle and he pandiculated, on his own, a more lasting change because that is how all babies learn to move. And now he was no longer blocked or stuck. Credit must also be given to the devoted parents who did their best to care for Roman and would just never give up.
The lessons I learned working with Roman improved my technique with adults as well. It helped me to work with "softer" touch, to be more observant of what happens during and after movement, to use the tools of MW and KM to complement and increase the effectiveness of pandiculation.