Wry Neck


Did you know that a “Wryneck” is actually a small woodpecker bird that is able to turn its head almost 180 degrees!

Medically the term is used to indicate an acute torticollis, which is an abnormal, assymetrical head position.

Common Symptoms

Commonly people experience an acute onset of left or right-sided neck pain on waking up. Turning or tilting the head usually, aggravates the pain.  Looking up is also often very limited and the head is often tilted away from the painful side. The pain and limited range of motion usually resolves within a few days of treatment.

Many of us would recognise the above description. In fact it is believed that approximately 70% of people will at some stage in their life experience neck pain. Wry neck makes up a relatively large percentage of that and fortunately the symptoms are transient and there is no damage to the soft tissue.

Causes of wry neck

There are several causes of wry neck. The two main areas affected are the cervical disc or the cervical facet joint. By far the most common is the facet joint lock.

The locking of a facet joint may also involve the soft tissue surrounding it such as the capsule.

Facet joints lie on either side of each vertebra forming a forward and backward facing joint surface so each vertebra has 4 joint surfaces. There are 7 cervical, 12 thoracic and 5 lumbar vertebrae.

Facet joints can “lock up” due to sustained positions which often happen at night. It could be that you simply don’t move for several hours (deep sleep) with your head in an unnatural position or that you wake up in the night and make a sudden movement. It seems we may be more susceptible after or during a cold or a bout of vomiting.


Treatment for wry neck is relatively straight forward. Once your physiotherapist has unlocked the joint, mild symptoms may remain for a few more days. One to three treatment sessions is fairly standard for wry necks. There are several things you can do to manage the condition. Whilst you are still experiencing symptoms the condition is self-limiting, don’t push yourself!

We encourage patients to use heat packs as often as possible on their neck at home to reduce secondary muscle tension. Your physio will give you specific exercise to stretch the muscles and promote normal movement of the facet joints.

For more information on the conditions we treat and services we offer, or to book an appointment please call 9939 0157 or email us at info@focusphysiotherapy.com.au

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