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.
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.
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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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:
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.
Neck spasms may also be “idiopathic,” which means healthcare providers can’t pinpoint an exact cause.
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.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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:
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:
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.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 11/22/2022.
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