Chances are you’ve woken up at least one morning and all of a sudden not been able to move your neck, with no clues as to why. Approximately 70% of us have. We call this Acute Wry Neck. It’s debilitating, and scary, as it gives us a sharp pain with even the smallest of neck movements. 

The good news is that an acute wry neck can be successfully treated with physiotherapy in a very short period of time. 

Let’s briefly discuss the typical signs and symptoms

  • A sudden onset of pain on one side of the neck (that does not travel past the shoulder) 
  • Stiffness, and inability to move the neck freely due to spasm of the surrounding neck muscles 
  • More specifically, a lack of movement into ‘contralateral lateral flexion’ (tilting away from the painful side) and ‘ipsilateral rotation’ (turning towards the painful side). 

Why causes Wry Neck? 

Firstly, it’s important to know that wry neck is not caused by harmful or long term structural damage to the neck. Instead, we classify it as short term irritation to the area caused either by a quick movement, or a sustained position (ie sleeping with the head turned to one side) is often to blame. 

The two types of Wry Neck you may experience 

The two main types of acute wry neck are ‘Apophyseal’ and ‘Discogenic’. 

Discogenic wry neck is an irritation to the cervical discs that sit between the vertebrae. Most often this classification results from repeated stress or prolonged periods of an abnormal neck position (like an uncomfortable sleep on a pillow you’re not used to, or sustained desk work and screen use). This type will cause a more diffuse area of pain that builds up over a longer time. 

Apophyseal wry neck is an irritation to the joints in the neck (facet joints) that are moved throughout the rotation and tilting of the neck during almost all of our head movements. This tends to be caused by a sudden movement, and results in a more localised, and sharper sense of discomfort.

What should you do to treat Wry Neck? 

Most often, with good treatment, the spasm and lack of movement resolves quickly over a period of 2-3 days. The best line of treatment is an early assessment with a Physio who will perform soft tissue massage or gentle joint mobilisations. It’s important to continue with light movement, instead of holding the neck and upper body still. 

Longer term, it can be helpful to strengthen the neck and upper body muscles to help prevent it reoccurring in the future. A steady entry into doing a regular strength training program which focuses on improving posture alongside overall fitness is a wise choice. If you’re not sure where to start, we’d recommend having a consultation with an Exercise Physiologist first who’ll do an initial assessment, and then create a unique program which is suited to your needs.  

Do you need to see a GP for Wry Neck? 

In almost all cases, physiotherapy is indicated as your first assessment and treatment. We will refer you to a GP if prescription of medication is required. This is commonly unnecessary as symptoms resolve with treatment and light exercise therapy. 

Do you need scans for Wry Neck? 

The short answer is no. Diagnostic imaging is not required to provide information to your treating practitioner for acute wry neck. You may only need scans later down the line if it continues to recur despite having physiotherapy and doing regular strength training programs.

Can you continue to work and exercise?

Yes. In the first 24-48 hours you may need to make minor modifications to exclude fast, heavy and repetitive movements of the upper body and neck to allow the discomfort to settle. In most cases, it is advised to continue with light aerobic exercise and non-strenuous work duties as this will actually aid the resolution of muscle spasm and keep you active while you recover from your wry neck. 

If you or someone you know wakes up with a stiff and painful neck, don’t hesitate to reach out. No referral is required for an initial physiotherapy appointment for wry neck, simply book in for an appointment here so we can get you pain free!

As always, if you are experiencing pain or niggle, and would like to discuss your treatment options with us before booking anything, schedule a 10 minute free and confidential call with our team.