A neck spasm occurs when the muscles in a person's neck contract involuntarily. Neck spasms can be very painful and may cause headaches or dizziness. Fortunately, a person can usually treat a neck spasm with exercise and home remedies.
A neck spasm caused by the sudden tightening of the neck muscles may cause:
- severe, sharp pain
- problems moving the neck and shoulders
- increased pain when moving the neck and shoulders
- a headache
- dizziness or tingling in the base of the neck
Dizziness or tingling in the base back of the neck may occur if neck muscles pull on the scalp when they spasm.
Neck spasms have several common causes:
- repeated or prolonged movements of the neck
- sitting at a computer for extended periods
- turning suddenly while sleeping
- placing too much weight on one shoulder with a bag
- carrying something heavy, especially if with one arm
- using a mobile without hands, cradling it against the neck
- emotional stress
- strain caused by exercise
- poor posture
There may also be a more serious reason for neck spasms, such as:
- whiplash or other trauma
- ankylosing spondylitis (an inflammatory condition that affects the spine)
- torticollis or cervical dystonia (a condition where neck spasms cause the head to twist to one side)
- spinal stenosis
- joint disorders that affect the jaw
- herniated disk
The following medical treatments may help:
- anti-inflammatory medication
- pain relief medication
- muscle relaxants
- steroid or anesthetic injections (only if other treatments have proved ineffective)
A doctor may also recommend physical therapy.
A 2017 study suggests an over-the-counter expectorant called guaifenesin may prove effective in treating neck spasms. More research is needed before doctors can recommend this treatment.
A good way to treat neck spasms is with stretching exercises. The following may help:
Basic neck stretches
To do a basic neck stretch:
- place your right hand on the top of your head
- pull your head down towards the right side of the chest
- repeat on the left side
- repeat the exercise three times
To do a scalene stretch:
- stand with both hands behind your back, clasping your right wrist with your left hand
- use your left hand to pull the right arm and shoulder down
- meanwhile, tilt your head to the left, stretching the right side of the neck
- repeat three times on each side
Neck curl and head lift
To do a neck curl and head lift:
- lie down as if you are about to do a sit up
- with your hands behind your head, tuck your neck into the chest
- then lift your head off the floor, keeping your shoulders on the floor
- repeat five times
In addition to anti-inflammatory medication, pain relief, and stretching, the following home remedies may help:
Stress may trigger neck spasms. Taking regular breaks from work and exercising as often as possible may help a person better manage stress.
Deep breathing, yoga, and meditation may also help.
Ice may help reduce neck spasms. Using an ice pack for 20 minutes a time, every 3 to 4 hours may help relax the neck muscles.
Applying moist heat to the affected area may also help with recurring neck spasms. Apply moist heat using heating pads or a damp, warm cloth.
Self or partner massage may help relieve muscle spasms. Try to use gentle to firm pressure on the neck and move fingers in circular motions.
A 2014 study found that classic massages could reduce neck pain.
To prevent neck spams:
- take regular screen breaks
- exercise regularly
- use laptop or computer stands to adjust screen height
- make sure office chairs promote good posture
- improve posture with strengthening exercises, such as pilates
- make sure to stretch at the earliest sign of neck pain
- using supportive pillows
Meningitis can cause a stiff neck. Meningitis can be extremely dangerous, and anyone who suspects they may have meningitis should contact emergency services. The symptoms of meningitis include:
- sudden high fever
- stiff neck
- a headache
- purple bruise-like marks on the skin
Most neck spasms have a common cause. If caused by an injury, it is essential to speak to a doctor straight away.
A person should also speak to a doctor if their symptoms are very severe or last longer than a week.