Neck Spasms

Neck spasms are involuntary contractions, or tightening, of your neck muscles. Spasms usually accompany other symptoms like neck pain and stiffness. Neck sprains and strains are the most common causes, but injuries and more serious conditions can also cause spasms. Stretches, pain medications and relaxation techniques can often help provide relief.


What are neck spasms?

Neck spasms happen when the muscles in your neck suddenly tighten without your control. Muscle spasms, including the ones in your neck, are painful and unpredictable. Neck spasms often accompany other symptoms like neck pain and stiffness. The contracting muscles may make moving your neck, head and shoulders difficult.

Symptoms can last from several minutes to several weeks. Sometimes the pain continues even after the spasms stop.

Neck spasms related to an injury or musculoskeletal condition require medical attention. Most neck spasms usually aren’t serious and clear up on their own within a week. In the meantime, you can take steps at home to feel better.

Who gets neck spasms?

Anyone can get neck spasms. Spending long hours in front of electronic screens, including computers, cellphones and tablets, has become a common way of life for many children and adults. This lifestyle increases the odds of neck strain, pain, stiffness and spasms. Even if you’re regularly active, you can develop spasms if you overexert your neck muscles.

Your lifestyle and the mechanics of your neck, or cervical spine, may increase your chances of developing neck spasms.


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Symptoms and Causes

What does a neck spasm feel like?

A muscle spasm in your neck feels like sudden, uncontrollable pain or a twitch. The sensation ranges from mildly unpleasant to severely painful.

Symptoms of a neck spasm may include:

  • Sharp, sudden pain in your neck (that may worsen when you try to move your neck).
  • Neck pain or discomfort that feels like it’s coming from deep within your neck muscles.
  • A tingling or “pins and needles” feeling at the base of your neck.
  • Trouble moving your neck, head or shoulders.
  • Neck muscles that feel tight or hard.
  • Headache.
  • Dizziness.

What causes spasms in the neck?

Neck spasms have many causes. The most common are neck sprains or strains. You have more than 20 muscles in your neck and various ligaments, nerves and tendons. Even minor tissue damage to these parts or overexertion can cause the surrounding muscles and tissue to tighten in response, causing spasms.

It’s rare, but sometimes a serious injury or health condition may cause neck spasms.

Common causes of neck spasms

  • Having poor posture.
  • Cradling a cellphone using your neck.
  • Craning your neck to stare at a computer, TV or cellphone screen for too long.
  • Carrying a heavy bag over one shoulder.
  • Straining your neck muscles during exercise.
  • Clenching or grinding your teeth when you’re asleep.
  • Carrying a heavy object (especially using one arm).
  • Holding too much tension in your neck because of stress.
  • Sleeping in a position that prevents your head and body from being aligned.
  • Using a pillow that doesn’t provide your neck enough cushion or support.
  • Not drinking enough fluids (dehydration).

Serious conditions that cause neck spasms

  • Ankylosing spondylitis: A type of arthritis that causes inflammation in your spine.
  • Cervical dystonia (spasmodic torticollis): a neurological condition where neck spasms cause your head to turn in various directions without your control.
  • Cervical spondylosis: Arthritis in your neck.
  • Herniated disk: An injury that occurs when one of the disks between the bones in your spine shifts out of place or tears.
  • Meningitis: A serious infection that causes the protective tissue around your brain and spinal cord to become inflamed.
  • Osteoarthritis: The most common type of arthritis, which involves the breakdown of cartilage in your spinal joints.
  • Spinal stenosis: A narrowing of the spaces in your spinal canal.
  • Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders: A group of conditions that affect the joints and nearby muscles and ligaments in your jaw.
  • Trauma or injury: An injury or accident that damages the structures in your neck.
  • Whiplash: A common type of neck injury where sudden impact causes your neck to project forward and then snap backward.

Neck spasms may also be “idiopathic,” which means healthcare providers can’t pinpoint an exact cause.


Diagnosis and Tests

How are neck spasms diagnosed?

A healthcare provider will diagnose neck spasms by examining your neck and asking about your symptoms and medical history. They’ll ask you to describe your pain and identify other symptoms you’re experiencing. Tell your healthcare provider about any recent injuries you’ve experienced or activities that may have caused the spasms.

They may order additional tests if they suspect a more serious medical condition is causing your spasms.

Management and Treatment

How do I get rid of neck spasms?

Most people manage neck spasms at home until they go away. Various home remedies can help with neck spasms related to strains or sprains. To manage neck spasms:

  • Stretch your neck. Neck stretches can loosen the muscles that are seizing and causing your spasms. Stretching your neck is one of the best ways to lessen or stop neck spasms.
  • Massage your neck muscles. You can massage your neck muscles by giving the muscles a gentle squeeze and using your thumb to move the tissue in a circular pattern. If it’s hard to do these movements alone, ask a loved one to help or see a massage therapist.
  • Get active (if you can). It’s a good idea to rest if you have neck spasms, but movement is equally important. Light activity keeps blood flowing to your muscles, which can help muscles loosen and relax. If your pain threshold allows it, try light housework, walks, yoga or low-intensity exercise.
  • Address stress. Allowing your mind to relax can help your muscles relax. Try meditation or breathing exercises. Yoga can help you relax and experience the benefits of movement at the same time. If the pain from your neck spasms is so severe that it’s preventing you from moving, try lying on your back while playing calming music or a meditation.
  • Sleep with your head and body in alignment. You can keep your head and body aligned by sleeping on your back or side, with a pillow or neck cushion supporting your head. Avoid sleeping on your stomach with your head to the side.
  • Take over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications. Medicines that relieve pain and inflammation won’t address what’s causing your neck spasms, but they can help you feel better. Ask your healthcare provider if it’s safe to take acetaminophen (Tylenol®), ibuprofen (Advil®) or other NSAIDs.
  • Try cold therapy. Applying an ice pack or a bag of frozen vegetables to your neck, especially within the first 72 hours, can help relieve neck pain from spasms. Wrap the pack or bag in a thin towel before applying it to your neck to protect your skin. Apply for up to 20 minutes at a time every few hours.
  • Try heat therapy. Place a heating pad (on low), a warm towel or a warm water bottle on your neck to promote blood flow to your muscles. Place a thin towel or cloth between the heat source and your neck to protect your skin. Apply for up to 20 minutes at a time every few hours. Another option is to take a warm shower. Angle your body so that the warm water from the showerhead reaches the tight muscles in your neck.

If home remedies don’t work or for more serious causes of neck spasms, you may need to see a physical therapist, chiropractor or other specialists. If over-the-counter pain medications aren’t helping with the pain, a healthcare provider may prescribe muscle relaxants or give you a steroid injection.



How can I prevent neck spasms?

Neck spasms are unpredictable and aren’t always avoidable. Still, many home remedies used to relieve neck spasms can prevent them in the first place. To reduce your risk:

  • Perform neck stretches regularly to keep your muscles loose and build strength.
  • Incorporate stretching into your exercise routine by doing yoga or taking time to stretch during warm-ups and cooldowns.
  • Take periodic stretch breaks at work, especially if you’re often seated in front of a computer screen.
  • Adjust screens and monitors to eye level so you don’t have to strain your neck when working at a computer.
  • Sleep on your back or side, using a pillow to keep your head and body in alignment.
  • Sleep with a mouth guard if you’re grinding or clenching your teeth at night.
  • Hold your phone to your ear when talking, or use the speakerphone to go hands-free.
  • Avoid carrying heavy objects or bearing most weight on a single arm or shoulder.
  • Stay hydrated by drinking water throughout your day and when you feel thirsty.

If you’ve experienced neck spasms before, try methods that helped relieve them in the past. Try to relax your muscles before the most intense contractions start. That’s one of the best ways to prevent spasms or make them more manageable.

Outlook / Prognosis

What can I expect if I have neck spasms?

Neck spasms are unpleasant, but they usually go away on their own eventually. Most neck spasms get better within a week. Visit a healthcare provider if you’re experiencing severe pain or your symptoms don’t improve in a week.

Living With

When should I worry about neck spasms?

Neck spasms related to a serious health condition, like an injury, or that don’t improve on their own are serious enough to schedule a visit with a healthcare provider. See a provider if your neck spasms:

  • Involve severe pain.
  • Don’t improve after a week.
  • Begin after trauma (including an injury or a fall).
  • Occur alongside other symptoms, like numbness in your body, difficulty moving your arms or legs, or loss of control over your bladder or bowels.

When should I go to the ER?

Most causes of neck spasms don’t require emergency care, but meningitis does. A stiff neck is just one symptom of this serious infection. If you have meningitis symptoms, go to the emergency room immediately.

Meningitis symptoms include:

  • Stiff neck.
  • Headache.
  • Lack of energy.
  • Sudden confusion.
  • Sudden fever, aches or chills.
  • Bruise-looking marks on your skin (petechiae).

A note from Cleveland Clinic

You can’t always avoid neck spasms, but you don’t have to power through the pain. Pain medicines, ice packs and heating pads can help relieve your symptoms. Loosening your muscles by stretching, trying relaxation techniques or getting a massage can relieve the tension that’s causing your muscles to seize. If none of these methods work, see a healthcare provider. They can recommend treatments that can provide relief.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 11/22/2022.

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