Usually you get a “pinched nerve in the neck” on waking in the morning.
A familiar scenario is that you were shattered the night before & sleep really heavy. As you are lifting your head off the pillow you feel a sharp jab, and then you are stuck. Reaching around you put your hand behind your head and try and get up from the pillow, all the while gritting your teeth with pain and maybe even calling out from the pain (these are seriously painful). This is what most people call a “pinched nerve in the neck”. Your neck will feel stuck, wont bend or turn without pain, can’t look up, can’t look down.
(A true “pinched nerve in the neck” causes numbness and/or tingling into the arm. True pinched nerves are commonly caused by spinal disc injuries or cervical spondylosis (wear-and-tear narrowing of the spinal canal). If you have NO pain, numbness or tingling into the actual arm itself, keep on reading…)
In actuality, it’s not the nerve; the nerve just gets the blame by nearly everyone (but it is really just the messenger for the pain). So what is it then (you ask)? It’s a joint in your neck called a “facet” joint that has sprained. It is likely that you have been a bit stressed and/or a bit stiff in the neck making it vulnerable, and then one small movement is the last straw. You get the jab and the instant stiffness. This process can also occur from a quick look over your shoulder and “twang”!
The other symptom you may have is shoulder/upper back pain. This is referred pain from your sprained neck joint and not a pinched nerve, very normal for this condition.
So what can be done? Firstly KEEP IT WARM! Even though I spoke about inflammation which you would usually ice, spinal sprains prefer heat. If you are not sure however, have a shower, run the hot water on your neck and I bet you get relief (but only while the water is running). As soon as you cool the neck down, it will stiffen up. SOLUTION: get a wheat bag and keeping heating it up and putting it on your neck, even tie it on with a scarf so you don’t have to hold it. You probably wont be able to drive safely (head-checks are often too difficult) so stay home, lie down and rest (with a good movie). This acute pain can last up to 3 days but don’t be alarmed, facet sprains do improve over 7-10days!
What can an Osteopath do for you? We gently massage the spasmed & painful muscles, and carefully encourage movement into your joints. Our clinic has the added benefit of ultrasound therapy to reduce the inflammation in the sprained facet joint. Our experienced practitioners treat sprained facet joints daily. It is a really common problem not only for adults but for children too who have had a really heavy sleep (in a weird position)! Don’t be alarmed by the severity of the pain, just get some help.
Call 9857 7872 to see one of our Osteopaths and start recovering.