An acute onset of neck pain or a stiff neck is a very common problem and is generally nothing to worry about as it will usually improve after a few days or weeks. It is rarely a sign of a more serious problem. The neck can be painful or stiff as a result of sleeping in an awkward position, using a computer for a prolonged period of time or due to an actual muscle strain due to poor posture. Stress and anxiety are also common causes of increased tension in the neck and surrounding muscles, resulting in pain and stiffness.   

A twisted or “locked” neck, also known as torticollis often presents suddenly and one may find that their neck is twisted to one side and stuck in that position. The exact cause of acute torticollis is unknown, but it may be caused by bad posture, sleeping without adequate neck support, or carrying heavy unbalanced loads (eg carrying a heavy bag with one arm). Generally acute torticollis can take up to one to two weeks to improve fully, however it usually starts to settle after 24 to 48 hours.   

Symptoms can usually be managed from home as symptoms will usually improve with time. The main aim should be to carry on with your normal daily activities, to keep active, and take painkillers to relieve the symptoms as required. Pain management can be helped by combining the following suggestions.   

  • Take regular doses of paracetamol, ibuprofen, or a combination of the two, to control pain – (always follow the instructions that come with the medication or speak to your pharmacist/doctor if unsure)  
  • Use heat/cold packs on your neck – Using a hot water bottle or microwave pack can help reduce the pain and any muscle spasms, although some people find cold packs offer better relief. Try both to see which is most beneficial for you.  
  • Sleep on a low, firm pillow at night – pillows can sometimes irritate your neck pain, try a low firm pillow (see neck advice for butterfly neck pillow advice)   
  • Check your posture – poor or slumped posture can aggravate neck pain and tension, and may be a factor linked to causing it in the first place  
  • Avoid wearing a neck collar – there is no evidence to suggest wearing a neck collar will help to heal your neck, if anything it can delay improvement as it’s generally better to keep your neck mobile  
  • Avoid driving if you find it difficult to turn your head – If you are unable to view traffic or check blind spots then you may need to avoid driving until you are able to do so.  
  • If your neck is stiff, tight or twisted, try some neck exercises – exercise is known to improve and speed up recovery in acute neck pain. Please see the exercises and advice on the side of this page for further details.

Neck Mobility Exercises

Neck Chin Tuck Exercise Lying

Neck Chin Tuck Exercise Sitting

Isometric Neck Strengthening Exercises

Please note -
These are general exercises, seek advice if you are unsure.

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