Plagiocephaly, also known as flat head syndrome,[1][2] is a condition characterized by an asymmetrical distortion (flattening of one side) of the skull. It 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]

Other namesFlat head syndrome
Plagiocephaly and other kinds of cranial deformities
SpecialtyMedical genetics

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. Plagiocephaly divides into two groups: synostotic plagiocephaly, with one or more fused cranial sutures, and nonsynostotic (deformational) plagiocephaly. 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.


Left posterior positional plagiocephaly in a baby

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.[5]

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.[6]

Data also suggest that the rates of plagiocephaly is higher among twins and multiple births, premature babies, babies who were positioned in the breech position or back-to-back, as well as babies born after a prolonged labour.[7]


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.[5]


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.[5]


The condition may improve to some extent as the baby grows, but in some cases, home treatment[8] or physical therapy treatment can improve the shape of a baby’s head.[5]

Early interventions (based on the severity) are of importance to reduce the severity of the degree of the plagiocephaly.[5]


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.[9]

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. If the child appears to have discomfort or cries when they are re-positioned, a neck problem should be ruled out.[10]


High quality evidence is lacking for cranial remolding orthosis (baby helmet) for the positional condition and use for this purpose is controversial.[11] 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.[9]


Preliminary research indicates that some babies with plagiocephaly may comprise a high-risk group for developmental difficulties.[12][13][14] Plagiocephaly is associated with motor and language developmental delays.[15] While developmental delay is more commonplace among babies with plagiocephaly, it cannot be inferred that plagiocephaly is the cause of the delay.[16]


Ancient Greek πλάγιος (plagios) "oblique, slanting," from PIE plag- "flat, spread," from *plak,[17] and cephal- Modern Latin "head, skull, brain," (from Greek κεφαλή)[18] together means “flat head”.

See also

Artificial cranial deformation


  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. 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. 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.
  6. "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.
  7. Choices, NHS. "Plagiocephaly and brachycephaly (flat head syndrome) - NHS Choices". Retrieved 2016-05-30.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. "Unraveling How Craniofacial Conditions Affect Development". Seattle Children's Hospital. September 29, 2014.
  13. 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.
  14. "Flat-headed babies may face learning problems". CBC News. September 29, 2014.
  15. 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.
  16. "Developmental Delays Found in Children with Deformational Plagiocephaly". On the Pulse. 2012-12-24. Retrieved 2016-05-30.
  17. "Plagio | Search Online Etymology Dictionary".
  18. "Cephalo- | Origin and meaning of prefix cephalo- by Online Etymology Dictionary".
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