Wry Neck

Published: 14 Oct 2021

Wry Neck

Have you ever woken up with your neck stuck and unable to turn or move ? You may have a case of wry neck!

What is a wry neck?

An acute wry neck is the sudden onset of severe neck pain, it is accompanied by spasm of the neck muscles, causing the neck to laterally flex or rotate away from the painful side. Often, it means you can’ turn or move your neck very far at all.

There are a range of other causes of neck pain that present differently, and you can read about these here.

What is the cause of wry neck?

There is no sinister cause of wry neck, and often we don’t know the exact cause. It is thought of as an irritation rather than an injury and can be the result of a sharp twist or turn, or simply sleeping with your neck in an awkward position (like on a friend’s couch). 

We have small joints in our neck that help us to turn; these joints are called facet joints. Usually one or more facet joints have become irritated or locked, this is usually the underlying cause of a wry neck, which will result in pain, lack of range and protective muscle spasm. 

What are the symptoms of wry neck?

  • Severe pain or discomfort.
  • Pain when turning the head, especially towards one side.
  • May have your head tilting or rotating away from the side of pain.
  • Unable to turn your head.
  • Pain is worse when you try to move or force it

This pain and restricted movement is usually noticeable on driving and so it is often best not to try and drive yourself at this time as it can be unsafe!

Who gets a wry neck?

Anyone can get a wry neck

It usually occurs in 12-30 year olds and can occur in both younger and older populations.

There does not have to be a cause for the wry neck, and most of the time you will wake up with the neck pain for no apparent reason.

Does it get better?

Yes! Wry neck can be significantly improved with physiotherapy treatment in the first 24-48 hours and normally resolves completely with treatment within 5 days. 

You can also assist your symptoms to settle with ice, anti-inflammatories and pain medications (seek medical advice regarding the use of these medications) in the first 24-28 hours. 

Physiotherapy can assist by providing gentle joint mobilisations, gentle stretching and neck exercises. 

Can we avoid getting a wry neck?

We can minimise our chances of getting acute wry neck by:

  • having adequate pillows for our style of sleeping,
  • making sure that we are sitting correctly whether at our desk or studying, and taking regular breaks, and
  • regularly stretching the neck combined with deep neck flexor exercises

If you think you may have a case of acute wry neck, don’t hesitate to make an appointment with one of our qualified physiotherapists.