Have you ever woken up with a stiff and painful neck that will only turn to one side? You might have been suffering from acute wry neck, a painful condition following a typical pattern of symptoms. Most wry necks are classified as one of two different types – facet (joint) or discogenic wry neck.
Facetogenic Wry Neck:
Facet joints are found on either side of the spine and allow controlled rotation and side bending of the neck. An awkward or sudden movement of the neck can cause a part of the joint capsule to strain, tear or get caught in the joint, making it feel locked. The muscles around the area can also become tight and spasm, which amplifies the pain. The pain is usually sharp and can be pinpointed quite accurately to the part of the neck causing the problem, and the pain rarely travels down into the arm. It is usually possible to find a resting position where the pain goes away completely, only having pain when turning in specific directions. The good news about facetogenic wry neck is that your physiotherapist is usually able to help you ‘unlock’ the neck quite quickly with gentle mobilisations. Most of the time, a full recovery can be expected within a week.
Discogenic Wry Neck:
The vertebrae of the neck are separated from each other by fibrous discs, filled with a gelatinous centre. These discs provide support, flexibility and shock absorption. When placed under pressure, these discs may bulge or tear, and the resulting swelling can cause pain and muscle spasm in the surrounding area. It is important to note that in an area as sensitive as the neck, a small amount of damage can result in a large amount of pain.
The development of discogenic wry neck is usually due to a combination of factors, including neck stiffness, poor posture and biomechanics than can contribute to the disc being vulnerable prior to the injury. In these cases, it can be challenging to find a comfortable position, and it is more likely for pain or tingling to travel into the arm.
Treatment of discogenic wry neck is focused on reducing pain and muscle spasm with massage, taping, heat and postural education. Further treatment aims to reduce any stress that is being placed on the disc, mobilise any stiff spinal segments and correct any muscle imbalances. While the initial symptoms may settle down quite quickly, it can take up to six weeks to fully recover from discogenic wry neck. In this condition, it is also essential to address all the factors that may cause a recurrence of the issue.
If you are experiencing regular neck pain that just won’t go away, it’s possible that parts of your daily routine are contributing without you realizing. Here are a few common everyday activities that might be making your neck pain worse...
1. Your sleeping position
It’s easy to underestimate the impact your sleeping position can have on you. However, spending hours in one position will undoubtedly have an effect on your body. Pillows that are too high or too flat can mean your cervical (neck) joints are sitting at the end of their range in too much flexion or extension. Similarly, sleeping on your stomach often means your thoracic (upper/mid back) spine is locked into extension and your neck is fully rotated. In simpler terms, this means your joints are under more stress than necessary. Ideal sleeping posture allows your spine to maintain its natural curves.
2. Your daily commute
Many of us make sure our work stations are ergonomically set up to reduce stress and strain throughout the day. Few of us take the same consideration when it comes to driving. In fact, the set up of your car can be just as important as your work desk, particularly if you are driving more than 30 minutes every day. The correct setup in your car can mean you use less effort to drive and turn your head less often to check traffic.
Ensuring that your steering wheel, seat and mirrors are set up correctly could make a difference to your posture and perhaps reduce neck pain and headaches. If you find that driving is still affecting your pain after making these changes, try catching public transport or riding a bike on alternative days if that's possible for you.
3. Your downtime
Many of us unwind by watching TV or our laptops at the end of the day. Your position during this time can be something you don't really consider. However, looking up to view a screen mounted on a wall or looking down at a small screen or laptop can put pressure on the structures of the neck. Take a few minutes to consider what posture you’re sitting in before settling down to binge watch a series and see if you can either lower the height of your screen or raise it slightly so your neck can be in a more neutral position.
4. Your exercise routine
Any activity that requires sustained positions or repetitive neck movements can contribute to neck pain. Cyclists can be stuck in neck extension while looking ahead and breast stroke swimmers can also have excess neck extension. Freestyle swimmers with reduced thoracic or neck rotation can have difficulty achieving rotation when breathing which can cause pain and discomfort over time.
Your physiotherapist is able to identify any daily habits or activities that might be contributing to your neck pain. Come and see us for an appointment to see how we can help.