Acute Wry Neck

By Andrea Rich – Physiotherapist


What is acute wry neck?

Wry neck is a condition that causes pain and stiffness in usually one side of the neck, often causing tightness in the surrounding neck and shoulder muscles. Acute means that the pain has been there for less than 6 weeks. The pain can spread from the upper neck to the head (a neck-related headache) or from the lower neck to the shoulder blade or upper arm. Often there is restriction to move the neck and turn the head.

Approximately 70% of people will experience an episode of neck pain at some point in their life. However, we know that acute wry neck can be successfully treated in a short amount of time.


Signs and Symptoms of acute wry neck

There is commonly a specific incident that causes acute wry neck. This can seem insignificant like sleeping in an awkward position or turning the head quickly or a bigger trauma like hitting the head or neck in a fall. Sometimes the pain can come on over a couple days, after doing an activity you are not used to such as painting a room or working on a laptop while sitting on the couch.

This can result in a strain of the joints in the neck causing pain and limited movement. Muscles often become tight due to this resulting in more pain and stiffness in the neck.


Treatment & Prognosis

In most cases of acute wry neck, the acute episodes of neck pain usually resolve in a few days, with some residual symptoms lasting up to a couple of weeks. The neck pain should resolve within 6 weeks and rarely lasts up to 12 weeks.

Physiotherapy is beneficial for treating acute wry neck as we can help you regain range of motion, get back to activities that you enjoy and advise you on what to do so that the pain does not return. Physio treatment can involve:

  • gentle passive mobilisations
  • massage
  • dry needling
  • heat
  • movement and stretching exercises
  • strengthening exercises
  • advise on pain relief and medications


Check out these exercises that can help to reduce wry neck pain:



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Higher Function Team
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