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A Pain in the Neck

If you’ve ever woken up with a ‘crick’ in your neck, you’ll know first-hand just how painful it can be. Moving your head and neck can be extremely painful, often significantly more so to one side, and in severe cases people can end up holding their head at an angle to avoid the pain. The medical term for this, with which to impress your friends, is an acute torticollis. But why does it happen?

Anatomy of your neck

The neck has seven bones, called vertebrae, linked together by joints, called facet joints. There is a row of facet joints on each side of the neck and these allow your neck to move and bend – it’s the most mobile region of the spine. The facet joints are synovial joints, just like your wrist and ankle, and can be sprained in the same way a wrist or ankle can. A ‘cricked neck’, or acute torticollis, often occurs after sleeping in such a way that the facet joints are over-stretched and sprained. When this happens the muscles around the joints spasm to protect the injured  joint, and the result is our crick neck.

What to do

If you wake with a crick neck, remember to start the day slowly, within your pain-free limits of movement. Massaging the muscles around your neck, especially with a hot shower, or lying on the bed and gently turning your head may help improve your movement. Keeping your neck warm with a scarf is often helpful but using cold packs over the area to reduce inflammation can also be soothing. Keeping active is important, as long as the pain isn’t too acute. Most crick necks resolve within a week. However, seeing a chiropractor can help speed your recovery and you will receive specific advice to help prevent future occurrences.

Preventing it from happening again

Exercise regularly. We often strain the muscles we exercise the least, so if you’ve had a crick neck in the past, consider doing some exercises to strengthen your neck.

Check your posture – keeping your posture good will reduce strain on the joints and muscles. If your work is desk-based try to keep your computer screen at eye level and keep your shoulders relaxed.  Avoid using too many pillows, or overly soft pillows that don’t provide enough support for your neck at night.

*Suzi Corbett DC unfortunately no longer practises at the Guildford Chiropractic Centre. Her contact details can be found here

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