stiff neck | neck pain | Adult Torticollis
So, you awoke to excruciating neck pain and you are barely able to turn your head in any direction without pain. Don’t freak out, this is your body’s natural defense mechanism to let you know something is not right and your body is protecting itself. Although this is very scary and our minds wander to the worst-case scenario, take some slow, deep breaths and work to calm your entire nervous system. When the body goes into pain, it triggers a pain-spasm cycle and we need to break this cycle as quickly as possible. If we panic, we will facilitate, rather than inhibit the cycle. This pain and limitation you are experiencing is bad enough. We don’t want it to worsen due to stress and fear.
To reverse the cycle, we need to:
The next time you awake with a stiff neck:
- Take those slow deep breaths and trust that this will be okay. You are not alone as many others are also experiencing the same, awful pain right now.
- If possible, take recommended dose for over the counter NSAID (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory) medications you might use for a headache or other minor injury just to help stimulate the anti-inflammatory process. Obtain approval/recommendation from your MD as appropriate.
- Clear your schedule for the day and recognize that this is a day you need to focus on yourself.
- Although in general we recommend ice when we know there is inflammation (pain, stiffness, swelling, redness and heat are all signs that an area is inflamed), right now a warm shower may be better to try and help you loosen/warm up a bit. You could perform some self-massage in the areas that feel tight, but don’t try to excessively stretch or push your range of motion. Taking a bath is not recommended as you may have more challenges getting in and out, getting comfortable, etc. Consider icing for 15-20 minutes after your shower. The shower helps bring new, nutrient rich blood to the area and the ice will help to reduce the inflammation.
- Contact your local physical therapist for evaluation and treatment.
Why see a physical therapist as opposed to a massage therapist?
Acute/Spasmodic Adult Torticollis is a common condition with the vast majority of instances occurring without any specific mechanism of injury. It is critical that you have a properly trained and licensed professional evaluate your condition. When you take your car to the body shop, you expect that they evaluate the situation and advise of a cost-effective plan before you spend excessive amounts of money on random repairs or parts replacement. When you take your animal to the veterinarian, you expect that they take a proper assessment prior to beginning treatment. Why would you go to a massage therapist and just ask them to start loosening things up? There are many different reasons you might be experiencing this situation and a physical therapist is in the best position to assess this, treat it and make a plan for long term success. Physical therapists are experts in evaluation and treatment of human performance. This enables them to determine all the factors involved and help you with a well thought out, evidence-based approach. Your physical therapist is trained extensively in soft tissue mobilization (massage), but also works with joints and able to educate you on things to do and not do after treatment. Physical therapists take a thorough and scientific/methodical approach to your health. At a time like this, you need a professional so that this awful pain does not worsen with increase in neural symptoms such as loss of strength and sensation if the whole musculoskeletal and neural picture is not taken into proper consideration.