Acute wry neck

What is a wry neck?

An acute wry neck is also known as a torticollis. It presents as a sudden and severe onset of one sided neck pain. It is characterised by the neck being ‘stuck’ in a position and very restricted range of movement.

Causes of wry neck?

The exact causes of this condition are unknown. It often has no direct cause but can be from poor sleeping positions or fast movements of the neck.

One theory is that the facet joints of the spinal vertebrae become ‘locked’ or stiff. This joint stiffness causes painful movements and associated muscle spasm.

Signs and symptoms:

  • Sudden onset, often one sided neck pain on movement
  • Restricted and painful neck movements
  • Fixed and pain avoiding neck posture
  • Muscle spasm in the neck and shoulder
  • Pain doesn’t go past the shoulder

The second theory is that the wry neck is caused by an irritation of the intervertebral discs. These discs sit between the vertebrae and are important for normal neck movements and shock absorption. If the neck is fixed in a certain posture this can cause irritation and inflammation of the disc, resulting in pain and stiffness.

  • Onset slowly over time
  • Pain can radiate past the shoulders and into the upper back
  • Pins and needles/numbness, down into the hands

Who suffers from wry neck?

Anyone can experience a wry neck but it is most common between people aged 12-30. This condition is very debilitating, but this is a common and treatable condition with good outcomes.

Physiotherapy treatment

In most cases, a wry neck is easily and effectively treated with physiotherapy intervention. It is ideal to get a same day appointment to speed up recovery time, symptoms usually resolve within 3-7 days.

  • Soft tissue therapy
  • Cervical joint mobilisations
  • Manual traction
  • Active range of movement exercises

The best results occur with early intervention, if the condition is left without treatment for a few weeks, the joint stiffness takes longer to resolve.

Advice for self management

  • Stay active and keep doing your daily activities – within your pain limits
  • Heat pack instead of ice
  • Keep the neck moving within your pain free limits
  • Pain relief medication if required
  • Avoid neck braces or collars

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