Have you ever woken from a night’s sleep and found it painful to turn your head? That’s called a neck “crick,” and a lot of people struggle with them.
Neck crick isn’t a medical term, but it describes the pain you feel as you try to move your head in a certain way.
“It’ll be quick onset and you’ll say ‘Oh man, it really hurts to turn my neck,” says Dargan Ervin, senior physical therapist at Tidelands Health Rehabilitation Services at Carolina Forest.
Often, people don’t quite know how they got it.
“People will say ‘I think I slept wrong on it. I’ve got a crick in my neck,’” says Ervin who has experienced the phenomenon himself.
“I had one in high school and I thought I’d never move my neck again,” he recalls.
Fortunately, a neck crick isn’t a long-lasting or serious injury. It is usually caused by a muscle spasm that happens when you’ve held your neck in an awkward position for a long time – perhaps while sleeping or hunching over a computer screen.
Another cause is an issue in the facet joints, which are two small joints in the vertebrae surrounding the neck. When the ligaments supporting those joints are strained, the muscles around them spasm, which can lead to discomfort.
“These days everyone is looking down at their cell phones, tablets or computers,” says Ervin. “It’s no wonder people are having neck pain. We’re seeing more injuries related to how much time people are spending in a forward-bent position.”
Treating a neck crick is usually a matter of waiting a few days for it to resolve on its own. In the meantime, Ervin advises taking an over-the-counter pain reliever.
“You can also apply heat or ice –whatever makes you feel better,” he says.
Once the pain has diminished, you can reduce your chances of getting a neck crick again by taking stock of how you’re spending your days and making some changes. If you spend long hours at the computer, try to find time to get up and move.
“Pay attention to how much time you spend in one position,” Ervin says. “Try to move and do a variety of activities.”
Some simple exercises such as tilting your chin to look to the ceiling and looking and left and right can help keep neck cricks at bay, he says.
Encourage your children, too, to move rather than spending long hours bent over their cell phones or tablets.
“We’ve seen children who are 10, 11 or 12 years old with back and neck pain,” Ervin says.
If you experience repeated neck cricks and pain or the symptoms don’t dissipate, it’s time to consider seeing a physician or other qualified medical provider.