What is it?

Wry neck is a common condition characterised by the sudden onset of pain and stiffness in one side of the neck. Pain usually occurs upon waking or after a sudden turn of the head. Pain can shoot up the neck and can ache down the shoulder blade, there is often difficulty turning the head to the painful side. Sometimes a postural deformity can result due to protective muscle spasm, whereby the head is tilted away from the injured side.

Why did I get it?

The most common cause of wry neck is a sprained facet joint. The cervical spine contains numerous joints, mostly small swivel joints called facet joints, which give the neck good flexibility. Pinching of the joint capsule within the planes of a facet joint will cause sudden sharp pain and associated inflammation with muscle spasm. Occasionally, the intervertebral disc can be a source of pain, this generally occurs in the older population. Contributing factors to the development of wry neck are:

  • Sustained poor posture
  • Slouching
  • Excessive or forceful neck movement
  • Repetitive or prolonged neck movement
  • Awkward or poor sleeping position
  • Different beds/pillow/mattress
  • Stomach sleeper

During certain postures or movements of the neck, stretching or compression forces are placed on the facet joint. If these forces are excessive due to repetition or high load, or are sustained for too long, injury to the facet joint may occur. This may involve damage to the cartilage or tearing to the connective tissue surrounding the joint.

How is it diagnosed?

A thorough clinical examination by a Physiotherapist will most commonly diagnose the condition. It is very important for your Physiotherapist to accurately diagnose your specific problem, since not all neck pain will be from an acute wry neck. There are many potential sources of neck pain, and Physiotherapists are specifically trained to identify these issues and manage them appropriately.

Treatment options

The majority of wry neck patients respond well to Physiotherapy treatment within 3-5 days, however more severe cases can take up to two weeks. Outlined below are the most common treatment options undertaken for this condition:

  • Strapping
  • Massage
  • Soft Tissue Stretching
  • Acupuncture
  • Heat
  • Pain medication
  • Joint mobilisation
  • Therapeutic Exercise