Today we’re going to talk about acute facet sprains, these may be referred to as ‘locked neck’ or ‘wry neck’. These injuries often seem to occur for no reason yet are incredibly painful, restricting and can often lead to headaches, poor sleep and an inability to work. However I’m going to explain why this may happen, and what we can do to help ‘unlock’ the neck. 

The primary reason for the neck locking is an acute sprain or overload of what’s known as a cervical facet joint. This can happen seemingly for no reason as mentioned above, however it is more of a ‘last straw that broke the camel’s back’ type of injury. This could be due to repetitive work loads, particularly with looking up (like a tree arborist) but that same neck extension can happen for a desk worker with poor posture, or tradies working above their eye line. Although it rarely happens at work, it often happens when we relax or cool down later and we move just once too quickly and our neck can lock shut. 

Often the locking won’t happen when the pain grabs you originally, but you will slowly lose movement over the next few hours, or wake up the next day and be unable to move at all. 

This can also happen as an acute injury and not overuse, in the clinic I’ve seen these style injuries from the gym, football and even from people having a few too many beverages and sleeping in awkward positions.

So what is a facet joint? 

They are very small joints on the outside of our spinal vertebrae, they form a joint with the vertebrae above and below in the spine. These joints along with our discs are designed to allow or disallow movements of the spine in all directions. Facet joints are commonly put on stretch in heavy rotation of the neck/spine, such as doing a head check in the car. 

The difference between a ‘regular’ facet sprain and one that causes a neck locking is very little, the end result is more on how bad the body perceives the injury to be, whether the brain deems it necessary to send muscles into spasm to protect or let it go.

Signs and Symptoms

  • Neck pain – can be anywhere from a 1/10 to severe, everyone is different
  • Tenderness to touch – Spasmodic muscles can be very pain receptive
  • Restricted movement – This is the main feature of a locked neck, it can happen to one side or both, most commonly restricted turning and tilting your head
  • Headache – can occur immediately with locking or as a side effect of being unable to move head or neck for an extended period of time. 
  • Inability to perform daily tasks without pain – such as head checks, turning your head to talk to the person next to you, even some household chores

So what do I do? 

With these injuries I always recommend coming in sooner rather than later. From experience the longer the muscles remain in spasm the worse the associated headaches become. 

Even if the neck is super tender to touch we have a range of techniques and strategies to get you moving better again, using gentle traction and articulation techniques, as well as treating nearby structures, can be just what’s required to enable movement and start the healing process. 

What do I do in the meantime? 

MOVE! Try to move as much as pain will allow you, this may seem nearly impossible at times, but if we can encourage our muscles to relax and our neck to move this will kick start the healing, if you lay in bed and feel sorry for yourself you’re not going to be helping yourself!

The healing times for this are very inconsistent based on a number of things, including age, severity of injury, nutrition and your general health. The spasm itself could last anywhere from a day to a couple of weeks, the actual injury itself is often not healed. The facet sprain will often take another few weeks on top of that, it is important we rehab this to give ourselves the best chance at preventing another reoccurrence. Make sure you call the clinic 60211975 or book online today

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