What is a “Crick?”

By Dr. Kevin Wafer

August 17, 2015


Our daily activities are the main source of neck and back pain. While car accidents and other traumas can certainly cause problems, symptoms that seem to show up even though you “didn’t do anything” are more likely caused by small but persistent movements that cause problems over time.

How often have you heard someone say that they woke up with a “crick” in their neck? As a chiropractor, I commonly see patients come into the office with a “crick” being their main complaint. But what exactly is a “crick?”

When people think of a neck crick, most think about waking up one morning with a stiff neck.

Sometimes people find they can only turn their head in one direction without additional pain. The most common symptoms associated with a crick are neck pain and decreased cervical range of motion. The severity of pain and restricted range of motion can vary greatly. Some people might complain of mild neck stiffness, while others might have severe pain and can not move their neck at all.

crick neck pain relief

In most cases, what is actually causing the crick is a misalignment in one of the vertebra of the neck. Sleeping on your stomach is a notorious culprit in causing this type of problem, where you are keeping your head turned to the same side night after night. You’re bound to have a problem eventually. 

When the vertebra shifts out of position, it can start to put pressure on a nerve, causing pain. This misalignment may also cause the the muscles of the neck to be pulled, which can lead to muscle spasms and decreased range of motion. We refer to this as a “subluxation,” which just means a vertebra is out of alignment causing pressure on the nerve.

A chiropractor may treat your “crick” in a number of ways.

The most common treatment from a chiropractor would be an adjustment. The chiropractor will find the areas in the spine that are misaligned and use their hands to correct the misalignment. They may also use electric stimulation to help with the muscle spasms. Some chiropractors may also perform deep tissue work to the muscle to help relieve spasm and increase range of motion.

Although chiropractic treatment is effective in treating the common “crick,” it is important to also correct the cause of the problem as well. Most commonly, a “crick” occurs after sleeping in an incorrect position. First and foremost, never sleep on your stomach, this is the position most likely to cause neck pain.

In our office, we can also provide cervical decompression therapy, but this would likely not be needed in simple or uncomplicated cases. We utilize this therapy more often with chronic neck problems or neck problems that involve bulging or herniated discs. This therapy is particularly effective in chronic, degenerative conditions of the spine. (We can also provide this therapy to the lower back.)

Addressing your sleep posture can prevent the “crick” from returning

If you sleep on your side, make sure that your pillow is neither too high or too low. A good general rule is that your pillow height should be equal to the distance between your ear and your shoulder. Pillow height is also important if you sleep on your back. Usually, a single pillow is sufficient to keep your head in a neutral position while on your back. Here’s more information on sleeping posture, since this is the number 1 question asked by patients. 

The next time you, or someone you know, wakes up with a crick, be sure to see a chiropractor as soon as possible. Also, make sure that you sleep in a proper position in order to decrease your risk of future issues.

Particularly if you find that you continue to have this problem, you’ll want to take a hard look at your daily activities in addition to your sleep posture. What are you doing that is keeping your neck tight? Are you spending a lot of time with your head turned to one direction (like if your monitor is not straight in front of you all day)?

Dr. Kevin Wafer

About the author

Dr. Kevin Wafer was born and raised in Spring, TX. Since his mother worked as a chiropractic assistant, he spent much of his childhood in a chiropractic clinic and was adjusted for the first time at only 3 months of age. Click Here To Read Full Bio

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