Neck Spasms

Neck Spasms

Neck spasms are involuntary contractions of the muscles in your neck. Spasms in your neck can cause intense pain and keep you from doing what you love. In this guide, we explore the symptoms, causes, and treatments for neck spasms.

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Juhi Modi Medical Writer
Medically reviewed by 

Content:

Symptoms

Common causes of neck spasms

Treatment and remedies

Other treatments for neck spasms

Preventing neck spasms in the future

Diagnosis

When to see a doctor

Finding relief from neck spasms

You feel a sudden, sharp pain deep in the muscles of your neck. You wince and reach for your neck. It feels hard and tight in one area. It’s painful to move your neck. You feel slightly dizzy. And you can feel a headache coming on. If any of this sounds familiar, you could be suffering from neck spasms.

A spasm is an involuntary contraction of a muscle in your body. It can happen in any of your muscles.1 When a spasm is triggered, the muscles forcibly tighten and cannot relax. Spasms in the neck are quite common.

Neck pain

When you’re experiencing a neck spasm, the muscles in your neck contract. In other words, they become shorter, tighter, and harder. This can cause intense pain.2 The pain can last from a few minutes to a few hours, sometimes even days. The good news is that you don’t have to live with neck spasms. There are ways to get pain relief. Exercise and home remedies can usually treat neck spasms quite effectively.

In this informative guide, we tell you all you need to know about the common causes and symptoms of neck spasms. We share some exercises for your neck that will relieve your neck spasm symptoms. We explore preventive measures to help you avoid neck spasms in the future. The Injurymap app includes a range of neck exercises to ease your neck spasms. You can do these stretching and strengthening exercises at your convenience with little to no equipment.

Neck anatomy

The app shows you the correct method of doing each exercise. Keep in mind that this guide is for your information only. Please do not use it to replace professional medical care. Consult your doctor if your neck spasms are severe or do not improve with home remedies.

Looking for a solution to neck spasms? Try the Injurymap exercise app now.

Symptoms

Your neck muscles extend from your head to your shoulders. When they go into spasm, it can lead to several symptoms, including:1,3

  • A sudden, severe, sharp pain in your neck.
  • Problems moving your neck and shoulders.
  • Increased pain with neck and shoulder movement.
  • Headache.
  • Dizziness.
  • Tingling at the base of the neck.
  • Tender spots in the neck (these are called trigger points).

Common causes of neck spasms

Neck spasms can occur for a variety of reasons. Many of these are due to lifestyle factors and can be treated with exercise.

Common causes of neck spasm1,2

  • Injury to the muscles, tendons, ligaments, or nerves in the neck (sprains and strains).
  • Overuse (for example, excessive computer work or carrying something heavy).
  • Poor posture (slouching while sitting or tilting the head while standing).
  • Sleeping in an awkward position.
  • Sleeping on a mattress or pillow that doesn’t provide enough neck support.
  • Carrying a heavy bag with a shoulder strap.
  • Cradling a phone between your ear and shoulder for extended periods.
  • Emotional stress.
  • Clenching or grinding your teeth during sleep.
  • Dehydration (this can cause spasms and cramps in muscles throughout the body).

Treatment and remedies

If the cause of your neck spasms is one of the serious conditions listed above, you should seek medical care as soon as possible. If your neck spasms are simply the result of overuse, poor posture, or other non-serious causes, exercises can help relieve your symptoms.

Start by doing gentle stretching exercises to ease the pain, soreness, and stiffness in your neck. Once your symptoms have reduced in severity, you can begin doing strengthening exercises. Strong, flexible neck muscles are less prone to injury and spasms. Here are some exercises that can stop painful spasms and prevent them from returning.

  1. Head rotation with resistance II
    5 reps

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    Head rotation with resistanceThis exercise helps to loosen and soften your neck muscles that seize up during a spasm.

    • Keep your head in a neutral position.
    • Put one hand on top of the temple.
    • Use your neck muscles to counter the movement while you attempt to turn your head with your hand.
    • Your hand should gradually yield and allow your head to move as far as possible.
    • Press for 5 seconds to the left and the right, repeat this 5 times.
  2. "Ostrich" exercise
    10 reps

    This browser does not support the video element.

    Ostrich exerciseThis exercise helps to loosen and soften your neck muscles that seize up during a spasm.

    • Sit upright.
    • Keep your head in a neutral position.
    • Move your head as far forward as possible.
    • Your chin and forehead must be equally far in front so they are always kept in a vertical line.
    • Then move your head straight backwards by making double chins.
    • Repeat the movement 10 times in both directions.
  3. Posterior shoulder capsule stretch
    30 sec. x 3 sets

    This browser does not support the video element.

    Posterior shoulder capsule stretchThis exercise helps to loosen and soften your neck muscles that seize up during a spasm.

    • Stand up.
    • Grasp your elbow with the opposite arm's hand and pull your arm over to the opposite side.
    • Hold the stretch for 30 seconds and perform 3 repetitions with each arm.
  4. Balloon dance
    60 sec.

    This browser does not support the video element.

    Balloon danceThis exercise helps to loosen and soften your neck muscles that seize up during a spasm.

    • Stand with your front towards a wall.
    • Use a balloon, a beach ball, a regular plastic ball or similar item.
    • Place the balloon or ball between your forehead and the wall.
    • Use your forehead to balance the ball while moving your head slightly up and down and to the sides.
    • Continue for one minute.

Other treatments for neck spasms

Exercise is the most natural way to relieve neck spasms. You can also use one or more home remedies to ease your symptoms.1

Pain relievers: Over-the-counter pain pills like aspirin, ibuprofen, and acetaminophen reduce inflammation and ease muscle tension. It is advisable to consult a doctor before using these medications long-term as they can be harmful if used in excess.

Icing: Application of a cold compress to sore muscles can relieve your pain from neck spasms. You can apply the ice pack throughout the day for 10 minutes at a time.

Heat therapy: Application of heat to the neck can soothe tight muscles. A warm shower or a heating pad applied to the painful area can often be very helpful. Moist heat is especially useful before exercise.

Icing

Massage: Massage therapy is particularly effective for neck pain.4 Pressure on the neck muscles relieves tension and promotes muscle relaxation. Ask a friend or family member to massage your neck. You can also do it yourself by pressing gently, but firmly on the painful area in small circular motions.

While you are using home remedies to treat your neck spasms, remember that total inactivity is not recommended. You should certainly take some time off from demanding activities, such as playing sports. But it’s important to keep moving your neck. Stretching exercises will prevent your neck from becoming stiff and speed up your recovery.

Preventing neck spasms in the future

Lifestyle modifications play a major role in preventing neck spasms. Look at the common causes of neck spasms listed above. Are there any changes you can make? Here are some suggestions to consider:2,3

  • Use good posture, especially when working at a computer.
  • Take frequent breaks and stretch your neck muscles.
  • Adjust the height of your computer screen or laptop so that your neck is in a neutral position while you’re working.
  • Meditate, practice deep breathing, and take part in yoga or tai-chi to relieve stress.
  • Exercise regularly. Do strengthening exercises to reduce the chances of injury and improve your posture.
  • Start doing stretching exercises at the first sign of neck spasm symptoms.
  • Use a supportive mattress and pillow.
  • Stay well-hydrated.
  • Avoid cradling a phone on your shoulder.
  • Avoid carrying heavy shoulder bags.

Diagnosis

Your doctor will review your medical history and ask you about your lifestyle. He or she will also ask about any injuries or accidents around the time your neck spasms started. In most cases, your healthcare provider will make a diagnosis based on your history and their examination of your neck. However, if your healthcare professional suspects other, more serious causes of neck spasms, they may order further investigations and tests.

When to see a doctor

In the majority of people, neck spasms can be managed with exercise and lifestyle changes. However, there are certain situations when neck spasms can be dangerous if they’re not treated promptly. You should seek immediate medical attention if you have any of the following symptoms:2,3

  • Neck pain as a result of a fall or injury.
  • Severe neck pain that prevents you from sleeping at night or taking part in normal activities.
  • Symptoms that are not better after a week of home exercises and remedies.
  • Numbness (loss of sensation) in your arm or other body parts.
  • Problems moving your limbs.
  • Loss of bowel or bladder control.
  • Signs of infection, such as fever or chills.
  • Visible bruises on your skin, stiff neck, and headache (these are possible signs of meningitis).

Meningitis symptoms

Medical conditions that needs medical attention1,2,3

  • Meningitis (infection in the brain)
  • Cervical spondylitis (arthritis affecting the neck)
  • Ankylosing spondylitis (fusion of the neck bones)
  • Spasmodic torticollis (tightening and twisting of the head to one side)
  • TMJ (temporomandibular joint disorder which affects the jaw muscles)
  • Whiplash injuries (forceful forward and backward bending of the neck)
  • Trauma sustained during accidents and falls

Finding relief from neck spasms

How many hours are you spending every day bent over your smartphone? The answer may surprise you (try tracking your screen time). The modern way of life is taking a toll on our bodies, including and especially our necks. With increasingly sedentary lifestyles and lack of exercise, problems like neck spasms are becoming more common.

If you’re suffering from neck spasms, your body is sending you a message. It’s telling you that you need to make some changes. And perhaps the biggest change you can make is to include exercise in your daily routine.

The good news is that neck spasms can be treated and prevented with physical therapy exercises. If you have painful spasms in your neck, start by performing gentle stretching movements. These exercises will relax tight muscles in your neck and relieve your symptoms.

Later, you can include some strengthening exercises in your workout. These exercises will help improve strength, mobility, and flexibility in your neck and shoulder muscles. When you do the exercises regularly, you’ll become less prone to injuries.

The Injurymap app shows you how to do stretching and strengthening exercises for your neck, shoulders, and upper back. Working on these muscles regularly will help prevent neck spasms in the future.

All the exercises in the Injurymap app can be done at home. Many can also be done at your desk at work. The app shows you the correct technique to do each exercise. All you have to do is follow the easy instructions. Don’t let neck spasms needlessly cause you pain – start using the Injurymap app today.

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About the author

Juhi Modi has two decades of experience as a medical writer with varied interests and an enduring passion for health, biology, and science. She uses her educational background in medicine to write science-backed articles for clients around the world.

References:


  1. https://www.healthline.com/health/neck-spasms 

  2. https://www.summitmedicalgroup.com/library/adult_health/sma_neck_spasms/ 

  3. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/321180 

  4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25108749/