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I woke up and can’t move my neck!

Ever had one of those days where you turn weird, pick something up oddly, or make the simple is take of waking up, and all of a sudden you can’t even turn your neck? Intense pain and tight muscles are some fun side effects of this process. Often this will resolve by itself after a few weeks, but it can be a very uncomfortable few weeks. So today we’re going to over one of the main reasons you might have thrown out your neck – your facet joints.


Your spine is build to allow for mobility, but also as a stable structure to protect your spinal cord. There is the vertebral body out in front, a space called the central canal where the spinal cord runs, and on the back side is a number of facet joints which determine which direction and how far each part of your spine can move. Bending your neck forward opens up these joints, while extending your head back jams these joints into each other. Sports that involve lots of extension, such as gymnastics, can lead to chronic situations where these joints are repeatedly jammed together creating pain, termed ‘facet syndrome’. There is a little meniscoid disc in between these joints as well that helps to act as a shock absorber, similar to the meniscus in your knee. This little disc has an extremely high number of pain receptors. One theory for this acute and severe neck pain is that because of some poor joint motion, or from maintaining a bad position for a long time (like while sleeping), allows this little disc to slip out of its natural position. This leaves a little edge of the disc to get pinched by the facet joints, causing extreme pain. Because of this, your brain will naturally tighten up all the muscles in your neck to actively prevent you from causing any further pain. This is why you can’t turn your head, and backing out of your driveway or checking the side view mirrors becomes a daunting task.


So how do you fix it? This is typically a case where stretching and doing muscle releases won’t help tremendously. The tightness and spasticity is just your body trying to avoid pain, not a cause of the pain. Cervical manipulation performed by a Chiropractor or Physical Therapist can sometimes provide immediate relief by restoring normal joint motion and relocating the slightly displaced disc. Multiple treatments may be needed to make sure the joint motion remains normal, but this treatment is typically very effective. I can personally vouch for this, after one funky lift in the gym I spent 3 days with my neck stuck looking down at the floor in severe pain. I couldn’t turn my head any direction and am lucky I was even able to commute to and from Chiropractic school. One of my professors grabbed me, annoyed I couldn’t even look up at his lecture, and performed 1 adjustment to my neck. There was a slight discomfort during the adjustment but as I stood up I noticed immediate relief from both the pain and tightness, and could move my neck freely in all directions. He rolled his eyes and walked away. Some easy ergonomic changes will help prevent this from coming back, like making sure you’re exercising with good form and sleeping in a proper position.


Are you tired of dealing with neck pain? Call (703)-723-9355 to schedule an appointment with one of our Chiropractors, Physical Therapists, or Acupuncturists to start your journey towards living pain free.