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Neck Spasms

What are neck spasms?

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

What is the cause?

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: Put an ice pack, gel pack, or package of frozen vegetables wrapped in a cloth on your neck every 3 to 4 hours for up to 20 minutes at a time.
  • Moist heat: Sometimes, especially with recurrent spasms, moist heat can help. Moist heat includes heat patches or moist heating pads that you can purchase at most drugstores, a wet washcloth or towel that has been heated in the dryer, or a hot shower. Don’t use heat if you have swelling.
  • 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 a shot of a steroid 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.
  • Follow your healthcare provider's instructions. Ask your provider:
    • How long it will take to recover
    • What activities you should avoid and when you can return to your normal activities
    • How to take care of yourself at home
    • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them
  • Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup.

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.

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.

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Published by RelayHealth.
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