What Is A Wry Neck?!

Have you ever gone to sleep completely fine and woken up with severe neck pain? Acute torticollis, also referred more commonly to as wry neck, is a debilitating condition where there is a sudden onset of severe one-sided neck pain and stiffness.

Wry neck is usually caused by the facet joints in our neck becoming stiff and locked. Facet joints are the joints on each side of the spine that are responsible for guiding spinal motion. They also contribute to the stability of the spinal segment. Inflammation builds around these joints and the surrounding muscles will spams, causing a restriction in movement and pain. Although much less common, a cervical disc condition, such as a disc bulge, can also cause a wry neck.

The cause of wry neck is not always known and can be unrelated to previous activity. However, awkward sleeping positions, quick unguarded movements such as whiplash and activities that are different to your normal daily routine are often reported in a patient’s history.

Wry neck will typically resolve within a few days, with some residual symptoms lasting about a week. Over-the-counter oral anti-inflammatories drugs can be effective in relieving pain. The use of heat, in the form of a heat pack or hot shower, can also be helpful. Ice should be avoided as this can often make symptoms worse. It is important to remain active and keep the neck moving within the comfortable limits to promote recovery. Physiotherapy, including joint mobilisations, soft tissue release, dry needling and muscle activation and training can accelerate recovery. Your Physiotherapist can provide education and guidance on what you can do to feel better.


Chan N, Acute Wry Neck, PhysioNetwork.

Alle Foster

About Alle Foster

Alle completed a Bachelor of Physiotherapy at the University of South Australia and relocated to Sydney from Adelaide in 2023. Alle has a keen interest in Women’s Health, including pregnancy and postnatal care and pelvic floor dysfunction and has completed further study in this area. Alle has also completed post-graduate studies in osteoarthritic care through the GLAD (Good Living with Osteoarthritis) Program and enjoys applying this knowledge to patients suffering from osteoarthritic knee and hip pain. Alle adopts a biopsychosocial approach to her management and ensures no stone is left unturned in the management of her patients. She uses a combination of manual therapy including massage and dry needling for short term symptom relief and exercise to facilitate long term results. Alle has completed further training in clinical reformer Pilates and applies these principles when treating her patients, in both an individual and class setting.

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