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Muscle Spasm in the Neck

Neck Muscle SpasmsNeck muscle spasms are involuntary muscle contractions that often cause intense pain in the neck and limit your ability to engage in normal day-to-day activities.

If you experience a sudden, sharp pain within your neck muscles, the affected area may feel rigid and tense, impeding the comfortable movement of your head. Additionally, you may sense a slight dizziness and the onset of a headache. If you’ve had any of these symptoms, you may be having neck spasms.

A spasm denotes an involuntary muscle contraction occurring anywhere in your body. When triggered, the muscles contract and cannot release. Neck spasms, while relatively common, can be particularly painful and disturbing.


The muscles in your neck span from your head to your shoulders, and when they experience spasms, you may have varied symptoms, including:

  • Sudden, intense, sharp pain in your neck
  • Difficulty in moving your neck and shoulders
  • Heightened pain during neck and shoulder movements
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Pain in your head or down the shoulder, arm, or back
  • Tingling sensations at the base of the neck
  • Tender spots in the neck, referred to as trigger points

Common Triggers of Muscle Spasms in the Neck

Neck spasms can arise from a range of different factors, many of which are linked to lifestyle and can be effectively addressed through targeted exercises.

These causes include:

  • Muscular, tendinous, ligamentous, or nervous injuries in the neck (such as sprains and strains)
  • Cervical myofascial neck pain, a musculoskeletal disorder
  • Overuse, such as prolonged computer work or lifting heavy objects
  • Poor posture, whether it’s slouching while sitting or tilting the head while standing
  • Awkward sleeping positions
  • Inadequate neck support from a mattress or pillow during sleep
  • Carrying a heavy bag with a shoulder strap
  • Prolonged cradling of a phone between the ear and shoulder
  • Emotional stress
  • Teeth clenching or grinding during sleep
  • Dehydration, which can lead to spasms and cramps in muscles throughout the body
Tips to Prevent Neck Spasms

Neck Muscle Spasm Treatment

If your neck spasms stem from a serious condition, it is imperative to seek prompt medical attention. However, if your neck spasms are attributed to less severe causes like overuse or poor posture, exercises prescribed by your doctor or physical therapist can be instrumental in alleviating symptoms.

Alleviating Neck Spasms

Exercise is the most straightforward neck muscle spasms treatment, which can even be conducted safely at home.

The following treatments are also commonly recommended:

  1. Pain Relievers: Over-the-counter medications like aspirin, ibuprofen, and acetaminophen can effectively reduce inflammation and ease muscle tension. However, it is crucial to consult with a doctor before using these medications for an extended period due to potential harm with excessive use.
  2. Icing: Applying a cold compress to the affected muscles can provide relief from neck spasms. It’s recommended to apply the ice pack for 10 minutes at a time throughout the day.
  3. Heat Therapy: For muscle spasms, applying heat to the neck is beneficial. Whether through a warm shower or a heating pad on the affected area, moist heat, in particular, is especially helpful before engaging in exercises.
  4. Massage: Massage therapy is a highly effective method for addressing neck pain. Applying pressure to the neck muscles helps alleviate tension and promotes muscle relaxation, whether performed by a friend, family member, or self-administered in small circular motions.
  5. Dry Needling: A physical therapist will target myofascial trigger points to alleviate discomfort.
  6. Trigger Point Injections: Your doctor will inject a small amount of anesthetic into the painful area.

While incorporating home remedies, it’s essential to avoid complete inactivity. While taking a break from strenuous activities like sports, maintaining movement in the neck through gentle stretching exercises is crucial. This approach helps prevent stiffness and accelerates the recovery process.

Preventing Future Neck Spasms

Making lifestyle adjustments is key to averting future neck spasms.

Following these suggestions will help you avoid future problems:

  1. Maintain Good Posture: Particularly important during computer work, practicing good posture can significantly contribute to preventing neck spasms.
  2. Take Regular Breaks: Incorporate frequent breaks into your routine, using these intervals to stretch your neck muscles and prevent stiffness.
  3. Adjust Screen Height: Ensure the computer screen or laptop is positioned at a height that maintains your neck in a neutral position during work.
  4. Stress-Relief Practices: Engage in activities like meditation, deep breathing, yoga, or tai-chi to effectively alleviate stress, a potential trigger for neck spasms.
  5. Regular Exercise: Incorporate regular exercise into your routine, focusing on strengthening exercises and neck stretches to reduce the risk of injury and enhance overall posture.
  6. Early Stretching: Initiate stretching exercises at the earliest signs of neck spasm symptoms for proactive management.
  7. Supportive Sleep Setup: Utilize a supportive mattress and pillow to ensure a beneficial sleep environment for your neck.
  8. Hydration: Maintain adequate hydration levels, as dehydration can contribute to muscle spasms.
  9. Phone Use Awareness: Avoid cradling a phone on your shoulder for extended periods.
  10. Lighten Shoulder Load: Minimize the weight of shoulder bags to prevent unnecessary strain on your neck and shoulders.


Before starting muscle spasms in neck treatment, your doctor will conduct a thorough examination of your medical history and inquire about your lifestyle, including any injuries or incidents around the onset of the problem. In most cases, a diagnosis will be made based on this history and the examination of your neck. However, if more serious underlying causes are suspected, additional imaging tests may be needed.

When to Seek Medical Attention

While most individuals can manage neck spasms through exercises and lifestyle adjustments, certain situations warrant immediate medical attention.

Consult a pain management doctor promptly if you experience:

  • Neck and muscle pain resulting from a fall or injury
  • Severe neck pain disrupting sleep or normal activities
  • Symptoms persisting after a week of home exercises
  • Numbness in the arm or elsewhere
  • Difficulty moving your limbs
  • Loss of bowel or bladder control
  • Signs of infection, such as fever or chills
  • Visible bruises, stiff neck, and headache (potential indicators of meningitis)

Possible Serious Causes of Neck Spasms

Several conditions may lead to severe neck spasms which will impede your range of motion.

You should seek urgent attention if you suspect a serious medical condition, including:

  • 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 affecting jaw muscles)
  • Whiplash injuries (forceful forward and backward bending of the neck)
  • Trauma sustained during accidents or falls

Updated on May 10, 2024 by Dr. Thomas Stauss (Pain Management) of Pro Spine & Pain

Thomas Stauss, MD

Thomas Stauss, MD, completed both his undergraduate and medical studies at the esteemed University of Wisconsin in Madison. Dr. Stauss values having access to a wide array of cutting-edge treatment options, ensuring effective relief for his patients' discomfort and a significant enhancement in their quality of life. More specifically, he specializes in utilizing implanted devices to manage chronic pain. Dr. Stauss’s primary objective is to uphold the dignity of each patient while delivering ethical and professional services.

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