Ever woke up with an angry neck – a severe sharp pain that makes it hard to move?
Acute wry neck (also known as acute torticollis) is a sudden onset of moderate-severe neck pain with limited neck movements and usually accompanied by spasms of the neck muscles. It can cause the neck to become “stuck” in a tilted or twisted position. This can be common after having the neck in one position for a prolonged period of time (e.g. during sleep) or a sudden quick neck movement.
It is widely believed that an acute wry neck is caused by a ‘locked’ facet joint (most common) or a cervical disc injury. There are facet joints at each level of your vertebrae on each side which allows and constrains movements. These joints can be irritated and stiff causing pain. A cervical disc injury, such as a disc bulge, can also cause pain and inflammation and presents as an acute wry neck.
Common symptoms of an acute facet-related wry neck can include:
- Sudden onset of neck pain – usually on one side and does not radiate beyond the shoulder
- Restricted neck movements due to pain (and stiffness in the joint)
- Feeling like your neck is ‘stuck’ in a weird position
- Spasms of surrounding muscles
A Physiotherapist is able to diagnose an acute wry neck based on your reported symptoms and a physical examination which can include an assessment of your neck posture, movements, provocation of pain source and joint mobility through palpation.
An acute wry neck is usually successfully managed with medications (for pain relief) and physiotherapy. Physiotherapy aims to reduce pain, improve movement and function. It can include:
- Advice/ Education – including posture and ergonomics
- Use of heat
- Manual therapy – soft tissue massage and joint mobilisation
- Gentle neck mobility and stretching then strengthening exercises
- Dry needling ( in acute facet joint lock induced wry neck) can also be effective as informed by recent research
If you’re experiencing neck pain, it is best to get it checked and sorted out quickly by visiting a Physiotherapist at Bend + Mend in Sydney’s CBD for an accurate diagnosis, successful management and speedy recovery.
Shanmugam, S., & Mathias, L. (2017). Immediate Effects of Paraspinal Dry Needling in Patients with Acute Facet Joint Lock Induced Wry Neck. Journal of clinical and diagnostic research : JCDR, 11(6), YM01–YM03. https://doi.org/10.7860/JCDR/2017/26407.10079