What The Heck Is A Crick In The Neck?

By Marisa Ramiccio. May 7th 2016

You may have heard some people say that they have a “crick in their neck” when describing their neck pain or you maybe you’ve used this expression yourself. But have you ever wondered about what it really means? Is it even a real medical term?

A crick is not an actual medical diagnosis, so it is often used to describe different conditions. However, it is often associated with stiffness or pain in the neck or back regions, most often caused by sleeping in an awkward position. If you toss and turn frequently during the night and wake up twisted like a pretzel, you’ve probably experienced a crick in the neck. But knocking your neck out of place when you sleep isn’t the only cause of a crick.

Other causes include:

  • Facet joint problems – The facet joint is in charge of keeping the spine stable and if that joint is injured in any way, this can cause a crick in the neck. However, the only way to diagnose a facet joint problem is through a diagnostic injection in the neck.
  • Muscle spasms – This is a common cause of a crick in both children and teens and account for more than half of reported cricks overall. Muscle spasms can also be caused by problems with the facet joint.
  • Cervical radiculopathy – This is pain in the neck caused by nerve irritation.

Arthritis, disk-related pain and myofascial pain syndrome are other common causes of a crick in the neck.

Signs Of A Crick in the Neck

A crick in the neck may not be solely confined to the neck. The pain may radiate down to the shoulder or all the way down to the back and will make it difficult to turn your head in one or more directions. Swelling of the neck or shoulder is another common sign of a crick and will usually accompany the mentioned symptoms.

But sometimes a crick in the neck really isn’t a crick in the neck; it’s possible that it is something more serious. In this case, it’s important to seek medical attention as soon as possible to determine what the real cause is and how to treat it. But how do you know when that pain in the neck is actually something more serious?

Here are a few things to watch out for:

  • Tingling or numbness in the arms – This means that the nerves are compressed somewhere between your neck and shoulders.
  • Severe pain in the back or shoulders – If the crick in your neck goes away but you still feel pain in the back or shoulders, this could be indicative of a problem with one of your cervical discs.

If you experience these symptoms, you may want to head to your regular doctor, who will likely refer you to a chiropractor or neurologist so they can pinpoint the problem and provide you with specific ways to treat it.

Treatment Options

If you don’t think your crick in the neck is caused by a serious issue, you may want to treat it yourself. There are quite a few things you can do at home to get rid of your crick, including:

  • Massaging the area – To get rid of the muscle pain, massage the area with a pain gel. You may want to ask someone to help you out if the pain radiates to the shoulders and back, or you may want to visit a chiropractor.
  • Practicing range-of-motion exercises – Try to get your neck moving again by performing range-of-motion exercises. Slowly move your neck from side to side, up and down, and from ear to ear. The key is to do this slowly and gently so you don’t hurt your neck even more. For more information on these exercises, check out 5 Stiff Neck Exercises To Relieve Pain.
  • Changing your pillow – You may want to sleep with a special neck pillow instead of your regular pillow while the crick is healing. Or, if your neck is still in pain with a neck pillow, do away with a pillow altogether and just lie flat.
  • Stopping physical activity for a day or two – You may not want to sit on the bench, but if you have a crick in the neck, it can be exacerbated by playing sports, exercising or doing other strenuous physical activities.

One remedy that many people commonly use for sore muscles is heat, or a mixture of heat and ice over a period of two days. While this may work for some people, some doctors do not recommend this practice. Using heat compresses, heating pads and hot showers may soften the neck muscles for a little while, but once the heat has worn off, the crick will be back and the muscles may be in a worse state than before, especially if the crick is caused by a muscle tear.

While that crick in the neck may be a literal and figurative pain in the neck, it probably isn’t caused by anything too serious. However, it’s better to be safe and schedule a check-up with a healthcare professional to make sure the pain you’re feeling isn’t something serious.

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