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Acute wry neck

Wry neck painWhat is acute wry neck?

I went to bed feeling fine, but woke up with a sore and stiff neck. Why?

Acute wry neck is a common condition which can cause pain, limited movement, and muscle spasms in the neck. The neck muscle spasm can cause irregular neck posture where even small neck movements may cause pain. Acute wry neck is also referred to as ‘adult onset idiopathic torticollis’.

What causes acute wry neck?

The cause of acute wry neck is often unknown. Many people say they woke up with a sore and stiff neck. Potential causes include:

  • Restless night’s sleep
  • Uncomfortable pillow or sleeping position
  • Quick neck movements
  • Prolonged abnormal neck positions
  • Unusual neck movements

What are the types of acute wry neck?

There are two types of acute wry neck, classified by which structure in the neck is causing the problems:

1. Apophyseal, or facet joint wry neck:

Apophyseal, or facet joints, are small joints on either side of the vertebrae. They connect vertebrae to each other. These joints allow movement between individual vertebrae and limit overall movement of the neck. Facet joints can become stiff and get ‘stuck’ or ‘locked’ in certain positions. This is referred to as facet joint wry neck.

Inside and around facet joints are many nerve endings. The nerve endings can become irritated and very sensitive with this condition. This means even small movements may cause significant pain.

This is the most common form of wry neck, and typically occurs in people 5-30 years old.

Signs & Symptoms:

  • Sudden pain in the middle or side of the neck
  • Loss of movement, with the neck bent towards and rotated away from the sore side
  • Neck muscle spasm

2. Discogenic wry neck:

Discogenic wry neck involves injury to an intervertebral disc in the neck. Intervertebral discs sit between vertebrae and act as shock absorbers for your spine. Under pressure, these discs can become injured and bulge or tear. This injury causes swelling, which can cause pain and muscle spasm. This is discogenic wry neck.

This form of wry neck typically occurs in people 30+ years old.

Signs & Symptoms:

  • Gradual onset of dull, diffuse pain
  • Usually felt in lower neck, shoulder, or upper chest
  • Neck is fixed and hard to move
  • Neck muscle spasm

How long will wry neck last?

Facet joint wry neck can be ‘unlocked’ quickly, but there will be muscle spasm and swelling which can last 4-10 days. Discogenic wry neck can last up to 6 weeks. Several treatments with a physiotherapist can greatly speed recovery.

There are usually no complications or long-term effects associated with wry neck. It can be a onetime injury, or it may occur from time-to-time. Physiotherapy treatment can be very successful and can greatly shorten the duration of the symptoms.

How can physiotherapy help a sore neck?

Physiotherapists will use soft tissue and mobilisation techniques to ease muscle spasm, and restore movement in the neck. They will also create an individualised strength, flexibility, and muscle activation program to optimise function and prevent future occurrences.

Let one of the Pivotal Motion physiotherapists guide you through your recovery. Book an appointment online or call the team on 07 3352 5116.

References:

Brukner B, Khan K (2007) Clinical Sports Medicine: Third Edition, McGraw Hill, Australia Pty, Ltd.