Neck Spasms

What are neck spasms?

Neck spasms are involuntary contractions of the muscles in your neck. The muscles get tight, hard, and painful.

How do they occur?

Neck spasms may happen from an injury, overuse, poor posture, or stress. For example, it is common for people who do a lot of computer work to get a stiff neck. Spasms may even occur from an uncomfortable night's sleep.

What are the symptoms?

The muscles in your neck feel hard, tight, and painful. When the muscles that extend from your shoulders to your head go into spasm, the spasms may even cause headaches. You may have tender spots in your neck, sometimes called trigger points, that cause pain in other places.

How are they diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will review your medical history and examine your neck.

How are they treated?

  • Stretching: Spasms are best treated with stretching exercises.
  • Massage: You may be able to massage your neck yourself by finding the tight muscles and putting deep pressure on these muscles. You might also get a massage from a friend or therapist.
  • Medicine: Your healthcare provider may recommend an anti-inflammatory medicine, such as ibuprofen or naproxen, or may prescribe a muscle relaxant. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs) may cause stomach bleeding and other problems. These risks increase with age. Read the label and take as directed. Unless recommended by your healthcare provider, do not take for more than 10 days.
  • Ice: Right after the injury, put an ice pack, gel pack, or package of frozen vegetables, wrapped in a cloth on the area every 3 to 4 hours, for up to 20 minutes at a time.
  • Moist heat: Sometimes, especially with recurrent spasms, moist heat can help. You can buy a moist-heat pad or make your own by soaking towels in hot water. Put moist heat on your neck for up to 20 minutes at a time every 3 or 4 hours until the pain goes away.
  • Physical therapy: Your healthcare provider may recommend seeing a physical therapist for an exercise program and other treatments.
  • Injection: If the above treatments do not help, provider may give you an injection of a corticosteroid medicine or an anesthetic into the muscle.
  • Stress management: Neck spasms are a common physical symptom caused by stress or depression. Talk with a counselor, if your neck pain is related to tension caused by emotional problems.

How long will the effects last?

Pain from neck spasms may last a few days to a few weeks. You need to stop doing the activities that cause pain until your muscle has healed. If you continue doing activities that cause pain, your symptoms will return and it will take longer to recover.

When can I return to my sport or activity?

You may return to your sport or activity when:

  • You no longer have neck pain.
  • You can move your neck fully and comfortably.

How can I help prevent neck spasms?

Know what you can do about the common causes of neck spasm: overuse, stress, and poor posture. For example, use good posture when you work at a computer, take frequent breaks, and stretch your neck muscles.

When you first feel tightness or pain in your neck, start the treatment that has helped you the most. Treating early, mild symptoms right away can often stop the symptoms from becoming worse.

Written by Pierre Rouzier, MD, for RelayHealth.
Published by RelayHealth.
© 2012 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.