What is a Stiff Neck?
Stiff neck (wry neck acute torticollis) is a muscular spasm which temporarily causes an altered position of the head and neck. The head may be held to one side or in a twisted position. Sometimes the head may be held in a more forward position than usual. There is usually a sudden onset usually on waking. There are a variety of causes. Usually this condition resolves between 24 hours to one week after onset but recurrence is common. The initial management for this condition is pain relief (analgesics), gentle movement and sometimes manual therapy from a physiotherapist.
Symptoms of a Stiff Neck
Symptoms of a stiff neck include:
- Neck pain
- Limited range of motion of the head and neck
- Head tremor
- Altered head and neck position
- Stiffness of neck muscles and
- Swelling of the neck muscles
The diagnosis is often made by physical examination of the neck. An X-rays is usually not needed unless the physical exam fails to reveal the exact cause of the problem or another condition is suspected.
If you have these symptoms you must seek urgent medical assessment:
- Visual disturbances
- Hearing difficulties
- Difficulty speaking or swallowing
- Gait disturbances
- Progressively worsening weakness or sensation problems
- Pins and needles or numbness in the face
- Constant headache
- Constant pain
- Pain that wakes you up at night and is not due to your position.
How to Treat a Stiff Neck
It usually goes away on its own over a few days, sometimes longer. The muscle spasm often improves within 24-48 hours. However, it may take up to a week for the symptoms to go completely. Occasionally, the symptoms last longer or come back at a later time.
Heat packs and gentle neck exercises from a doctor or physiotherapist can help relieve the pain and try to reduce the stiffness in the muscles. Sessions with a physiotherapist may be required for acute cases. Medication is not usually required however painkillers may help. If the pain becomes unbearable, please consult your doctor.
Good posture may help, and prevent symptoms recurring. Check that your sitting position at work or at the computer is good with a straight neck and back, a back support for your chair can help correct your posture. A firm supporting pillow can help when sleeping.