Quick Guide To: Wry Neck Pain

'I just woke up with it!'

A phrase I've heard again and again to describe acute 'wry neck' pain. It can be so frustrating when an injury seems to have occurred for no apparent reason whatsoever.

Chances are though, that your pain was brought on by a strenuous or repetitive activity in the preceding days, which strained the facet joints of the cervical spine.

The good news? Cervical Facet Strains are fairly straight forward to manage and can resolve quickly with the right treatment.

Here's a little info to get you started.

Happy reading!


Cervical Facet Strains

The What, How and Why

Facets are the joints between the spinal vertebrae that form a continuous chain up either side of the spine. A facet strain occurs when the joint capsule is stretched or compressed causing pain.

Facets joints are designed to stabilise the spine, limiting movement in all directions.

As you age, the facet joints weaken and slightly change shape, which predisposes them to injury during rotational movements.(1)

Wry neck pain, facet joint pain

Facet pain typically occurs following

  • Repetitive compression or stretching of the joint capsule.

  • Trauma such as whiplash.

There is an increased risk of injury in people who have disc degeneration or spinal arthritis.

What will I experience or feel like?

Acute facet pain is very severe and sharp. Your pain may refer into your upper back or shoulder. Your range of motion will be significantly reduced, particularly when rotating or side bending, and your neck and upper back muscles will spasm to stabilise your neck.

How can I help fix it?

Facet joint strains are an inflammatory injury. In the first 48 hours resting, icing and avoiding any movements that aggravate pain is essential. Using gentle mobilisation exercises within your pain free range of movement will help maintain joint flexibility and decrease muscle spasm.

The sooner you seek treatment, the easier a facet strain is to resolve; within the first 24hrs is ideal if possible. Myofascial release and other gentle techniques utilised by osteopaths can be used immediately after injury. They can reduce the severity of pain and swelling, and help to maintain range of motion.

After the first 2-3 days, stronger manual therapy techniques can be utilised to reduce muscle tension, improve range of motion and restore normal biomechanics. As pain further reduces, physical rehabilitation is recommended. Exercises focus on strengthening and stretching neck muscles, and improving posture.

Your osteopath can prescribe specific exercises that are appropriate for you.

Wry neck pain, neck stretches

How long will I take to recover?

Facet joint strains can resolve completely within 4-12 weeks.(1) Seeking treatment promptly and adhering closely to rehabilitation strategies gives you the best chance of complete recovery.


Please be mindful that the information contained above is general in nature and is not intended to provide a diagnosis, nor replace the direct care and instructions of a healthcare professional.

If you have any questions about your symptoms or the recommended treatments and management plans available, please contact us and will be more than happy to discuss your case with you further.


1. Cohen, S, 2007. Pathogenesis, Diagnosis, and Treatment of Lumbar Zygapophysial (Facet) Joint Pain. The Journal of the American Society of Anaesthesiologists, 106, 591-614.Benzon, H., 2013. Practical Management of Pain. (s.n.).

Photos from Adobe Stock

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