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Why my neck hurts when there’s no specific mechanism of injury.

Have you ever woken up with your neck stuck to one side? Shooting pains up or down the neck and muscles in spasm every time you try and move? You lay there thinking ‘but I didn’t hurt myself? I didn’t do anything active that would have caused this”. You are probably suffering from Acute Acquired Torticollis, but what IS that? And WHY has it happened?

As a massage therapist I often get asked “why have I woken up with this pain in my neck?" There are several types of torticollis, but this blog is going to focus on the type I most commonly see in my treatment room.

Acute Acquired Torticollis is defined as:

“a painful unilateral shortening or spasm of neck muscles resulting in an abnormal head position” (Rattray & Ludwig, Clinical Massage Therapy, talus incorporated 2005)

That’s when your neck gets stuck facing one way and the muscles send intense pain signals that can radiate up or down the neck every time you try to move, so how did this happen?

  1. Watching a movie at home with your head turned
  2. Holding the phone to one ear with your head tilted 
  3. Falling asleep awkwardly or with too many pillows
  4. Sleeping where a draft is blowing on your neck
  5. Sitting at a desk with the computer screen off set 
  6. Prolonged periods of contraction in one direction – looking up to paint a ceiling 
  7. Carrying heavy loads on one side, where your bag strap is draped over one shoulder
  8. Other pathologies of the neck
  9. Activation of latent trigger points as a result of any of the above points 1-7

Quite often it can be a combination of several of the above. Stress and tension in the shoulders, combined with a bad night’s sleep and then compounded by either prolonged periods at a desk/computer and/or carrying heavy bags or children.  When you are with a massage therapist try to be as open and give as much information about your lifestyle as possible, though at first it may not be obvious why they are asking you certain questions, in the end trying to ascertain root causes of any pathology comes together like pieces of a jigsaw and will allow the therapist to provide you with the best possible treatment and aftercare.

Torticollis can effect anyone of several muscles in the neck, bearing in mind that those muscles can be on the posterior aspect of the neck, and may also attach to the shoulders, so even though this is a condition that primarily effects the movement of the neck, pain may well be felt as far as  between the shoulder blades for example, it may even cause tinnitus if trigger points in the SCM (that’s the thick neck muscle on each side of your neck). have been activated. 

As an Advanced Clinical Massage Therapist, I can assess you during consultation, I can use orthopaedic assessment tools and my clinical reasoning, having discussed your health history to work out which muscles are bothering you and point us in the direction of what we think could be the cause of your pain and what suitable action we need to take moving forward
So how can I help myself?

The good news is that during this time of isolation there are a few things that you can do at home by yourself to assist with this condition.

  • Daily stretches
  • Regular breaks from static postures with stretches to suit
  • Movement!
  • Self massage 
  • Self trigger point work
  • Balance the load – use a backpack
  • Check the quality of your bedding
  • Use a hands free kit

If you would like further advice on how to stretch or perform self massage techniques please do get in touch for an online consultation and treatment

Be Your Best, Be Your Very Best, Be More Tiger! 


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