Physiotherapy Brisbane

Acute Wry Neck

What is Acute Wry Neck?

An acute wry neck is also known as torticollis. It presents as a sudden and severe onset of one-sided neck pain. It is a self-limiting condition characterised by severe, single-sided neck pain and reduced movement.

Causes of Wry Neck

The exact causes of this condition are unknown. It often has no direct cause but can be from poor sleeping positions or fast movements of the neck. The causes of Acute Wry Neck may be related to inflammation of two discrete neck structures, intervertebral discs or facet joints – A locked facet joint after a sudden quick movement or irritation to a disc after sleeping in an awkward position. This joint stiffness causes painful movements and associated muscle spasm.

Signs & Symptoms

  • Pain: The onset of pain is sudden. Pain is commonly located in the middle or side of the neck that is affected. The pain is localised to the neck area and does not extend past the shoulder joint.
  • Location: Usually symptoms are felt on one side of the neck, as this is a protective reaction of the body to safeguard the neck.
  • Loss of Range of Movement: The neck is often fixed in an abnormal position (most frequently in a flexed forward and rotated position). The side that the patient’s head is rotated towards will often be away from the side of pain.
  • Muscle Spasms: The surrounding neck muscles have tightened or spasmed in response to the facet joint irritation. This in turn limits your neck’s range of motion.

Treatment for Acute Wry Neck

Fortunately, acute wry neck typically recovers in a few days with treatment, with some residual symptoms lasting up to a week. Common treatment methods used to help settle acute wry neck faster include

  • Dry needling
  • Massage
  • Ultrasound (to reduce pain, alleviate muscle spasm and normalise joint range of motion)
  • Postural retraining and motor control exercises
  • Stretches and light movement
  • Heat and NSAIDs


Neck pain is a major contributor to disability worldwide, with about 70% of the population experiencing an episode of neck pain at some time in their lives. Full recovery from acute wry neck often depends on which structures were the initial cause of symptoms.

If you need help with pain or immobility to get you moving again, or need a tailored exercise program, book in for your treatment now with one of our exercise, physio, or pain specialists via 1300 012 273 or head to our website and book a session at your nearest clinic.