You had a big day at the computer yesterday, it was a cool evening overnight, and you were snuggling up in bed to keep warm. You had a great night’s sleep, until you woke up with a very painful neck and now you are unable to move your head in in a certain direction. This is referred to as acute wry neck and it is a relatively common complaint we see here in the clinic.
Acute wry neck often presents as a sudden onset of neck pain located to the middle or side of the neck, restricted movement of the head and neck through its normal range with muscle spasm of the neck muscles. The pain does not generally travel below the shoulder although some people can experience headaches.
The most common cause of wry neck is related to a problem with and irritation of the facet joints of the neck. The facet joints are the articular joints on each side of the spine. These joints slide and articulate as you move your neck forwards, backwards, and side to side. Sometimes if you sleep in an awkward position the joints and their surrounding tissues can become irritated and inflamed becoming ‘stuck’ in one position. Sudden jerky and unexpected movements, compressing the joints in an awkward position overnight, or arthritis of the joints, can lead to an acute wry neck.
Often in the lead-up to experiencing an acute wry neck, there may have been other factors involved. This includes prolonged poor posture such as driving a car or sitting at a computer with a poor ergonomic set–up, repeated or heavy lifting, or changing sleeping positions with a different pillow or bed set–up.
There are several things that can be done to treat acute wry neck and help prevent further occurrences:
- Applying heat to reduce muscle spasms, or ice over the facet joint
- Joint mobilisations, massage, or dry needling
- Exercises and stretches
- Ensuring a supportive pillow
- Assessing and improving the ergonomic workstation set–up
Here are few stretches that can be done to help:
1. Neck retraction:
- Start in a seated or standing position and look straight forward.
- Tuck your chin in, as to resemble a double chin, lengthening through the back of your neck. Hold this position. Repeat x5
2. Neck stretch:
- Start in a seated or standing position.
- Place one hand behind your back.
- Tilt your ear directly down towards the opposite shoulder and use the other hand to help apply gentle pressure to the stretch.
- You should feel a stretch down the side of your neck. Hold this position for 20-30 seconds.
Hope this helps.