Wry neck

June 24, 2019

Wry Neck


Have you ever woken up and had panic set in because you were unable to move your head?

Acute wry neck is, unfortunately, a common condition. It’s defined as a sudden onset of pain causing the neck muscles to spasm as a protective mechanism.


What can cause it?

  1. Facet joint dysfunction: facet joints are the small joints either side of the spine that connect the bones of the spine together. Often a quick rotary movement can be enough to set the pain off. It can be pretty disabling and scary, but the good news is that treatment from your physio can be successful in a short period of time. Some residual muscle spasm can hang around for several days to a week but this is also treatable and we can help you recover quickly.
    • Symptoms
      • Pain (generally middle and sides of the neck).
      • The neck is fixed, usually in a flexed and rotated away from the painful joint and all directions are painful.
      • Spasm, often through the sternocleidomastoid and scalene muscles.


  1. Disc Injury: intervertebral discs sit between the bones of the spine. They act as important shock absorbers and allow the spine to move freely. If a cervical disc is the cause, onset can be gradual and can occur when you wake up.
    • Symptoms
      • Gradual onset of dull/vague pain.
      • Potentially lower neck, shoulder and upper chest pain. It can travel down into the arm.
      • Stiffness which is similar to the facet joint cause but there is no mechanical block. The movement is limited because of the pain.
      • Spasm.
      • Typically won’t respond as quickly as a facet joint problem, (can take up to 6 weeks to completely resolve).

Physiotherapy treatment is very important for symptomatic relief and to restoration of movement/ strength. In the early stages heat, ice, rest, medication, massage, gentle mobility and mobilisation drills are useful. It’s also important to identify any predisposing factors, e.g. poor posture, sleeping positions or work/hobbie related issues. Re-training neuromotor control if impaired should be addressed as well.

Sportscare Physiotherapists are all well trained in treating a wry neck and getting you back to normal with a individual and specific program for you to recover.