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What is an Acute Wry Neck?

Acute Wry Neck

By Laurence Schubert APAM

What is Acute Wry Neck?

Have you ever gone to sleep feeling completely fine and woken up with a neck that you just can’t move? Alternatively, have you twisted your neck and not able to move afterwards? These injuries are likely due to a common condition known as acute wry neck.

In the cervical region (neck) there are two main types of joints; intervertebral discs and facets. At each cervical segment there is one disc and a facet joint on either side. This injury causes the muscles of the neck to spasm and the joints of the neck to be locked.

What are the symptoms of Acute Wry Neck?

From the moment you wake up or twist your neck, you will experience extreme stiffness and decreased range of motion (ROM). Movements will cause large discomfort and you may even experience pain at rest.

What causes Acute Wry Neck?

Acute Wry Neck can be caused one of two ways; a sudden movement or gradual onset, i.e. when you wake up in the morning with symptoms. It is unknown the exact cause of acute wry neck, however when it is caused by a sudden movement it is likely the result of a facet joint dysfunction. When it is gradual, it is likely due to a dysfunctional intervertebral disc.

What can be done about an Acute Wry Neck?

Acute wry neck is treated effectively by manual therapy, e.g. soft tissue massage, mobilisation and manipulation. Alongside this, keeping the neck moving is critical. If you don’t allow the neck to move, then the condition is likely to worsen. Application of heat and anti-inflammatory medication may help settle some of your pain. It is important to see your physiotherapy rapidly, as this injury often responds well in the first few days following injury. Alternatively, if there is a more sinister injury, it is important to have a proper diagnose.

Home based exercises:

Complete the following exercises as frequently as you can and don’t push beyond painful limits. E.g. if the pain is > 3/10 then reduce range of motion or decrease intensity.

  • Rotations to one side x 10
  • Ear to shoulder x 10
  • Looking up and down x 10

If you are struggling with a neck injury, please contact us or book online for an appointment. 

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