You woke up with quite a bit of neck pain. What now? You can’t turn your head to look over your shoulder. In fact, you can hardly move your neck at all. That’s not uncommon, and it usually isn’t anything serious. Let’s assume you don’t have any prior neck injury or chronic neck pain. And let’s assume that the pain is just in your neck, nothing radiating down the arm, and no numbness or tingling. It’s what we might call a “wry neck” or “torticollis”, but calling it a ‘crick in the neck’ works just as well.
Try a few things first. Use a hot pack for 20 to 30 minutes. Take an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory. Gently massage your neck with your hand. Sometimes that’s enough to settle it in a day or two. What happens on day 3 when it’s not better, and even worse? And your annual vacation is coming up in a week! It’s time to get in to your physiotherapist. Here’s what I'll do:
Hands-on treatment for acute neck pain
First I'll go through an examination, to make sure it’s just that crick, and nothing more serious (see the list of neck pain diagnoses? There are lots of things I'll rule out first). Then we get started on settling things down. Most often, we’ll spend 15-20 minutes taking your neck through a variety of gentle mobilizations to slowly regain movement of the stiff spinal segments. I'll probably use a bit of gentle massage, and sometimes some ultrasound to help. Occasionally, you’ll need a quick ‘click’ to manipulate the joints so they can move freely again. And always, I'll show you what simple exercises and home remedies will work best for you. An uncomplicated “wry neck” can be gone in less than a week once with proper treatment.
Get healthy. Stay healthy.