“A pain in the neck” – Acute wry neck


We all experience aches and pains in our necks from time to time. Maybe you slept wrong or spent hours in front of the computer studying or working and have a stiff neck. Our necks are an integral part of our skeleton that protect vitally important structures and provide stability & mobility for our heads to take in the world around us.

Neck pain that comes on quickly or suddenly could be from a few causes. Your Physiotherapist can accurately assess and diagnose where the problem is coming from and work with you to correct it. Acute wry neck is one of the more common causes of neck pain & is characterised as “a sudden onset of sharp neck pain with a protective deformity and limitation of movement”

Typically occurs:

  • on waking
  • after a sudden quick movement
  • Possible abnormal or prolonged postures or unusual movements prior to onset

Two main causes:
Facet or Zygopophyseal – The joints in our neck overlap between the vertebrae that sits above and below it. Sometimes these joints get stiff or ‘lock’, restricting movement & causing pain. Nerves from our spinal cord exit between these joints so can become irritated, so even tiny movements of our head and neck can hurt, causing muscles to protectively spasm, further restricting movement.

  • more common in kids or young adults
  • brought on by a sudden movement & sharp pain
  • usually has a fixed posture of the neck – I.e looking to one side and unable to turn the head as a result of pain or muscle spasm

​Discogenic Wry Neck – Arising from the discs between the vertebral bodies.

  • more gradual onset – typically when waking from a long sleep in an abnormal posture
  • more affected if middle aged & older
  • pain can be felt in the lower neck or upper back, sometimes radiating towards the shoulder blades
  • A history of joint disease or arthritis in the lower neck may be present

How long will it be stuck?
Facet joint wry neck is quick onset, so recovery is usually swift in ‘unlocking’ the joint again, however the protective muscle spasm and swelling can last for a few days to over a week to settle. Discogenic wry neck can take some more time from weeks to months to settle. Physiotherapy can greatly assist with recovery & prevent reoccurrences.
Treatment will depend on the cause and may include:

  • Manual therapy (soft tissue massage & joint mobilisations and/or traction)
  • Ice, heat or other electrotherapeutic modalities may be used in addition to treatment
  • Home exercises to help restore movement and flexibility, aiming to improve strength of deep supporting muscles of the neck

You don’t have to put up with neck pain, get in touch today to see how our team can help you. Book online or call 02 5926 3806

Fun Fact! Did you know that humans and Giraffe have the same number of bones in our necks! They’re just a lot bigger and weight significantly more.

If you are in pain, or have an injury – let us help!

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