A spasm in the muscle occurs when the muscle involuntarily tightens, resulting in intense pain that can last anywhere from a few short minutes to days. They typically feel sharp and sudden, with the pain radiating deep into the muscle tissue. It can also cause the muscle to feel especially hard, making it difficult or painful to move the neck.
While spasms can happen anywhere there is muscle, one of the most common areas to experience them is in your neck and shoulders. The neck specifically is often more vulnerable to injury or pain, as the structure of the spine and muscles are delicate and complex.
Neck spasms are, at best, unpleasant and, at worst, debilitating. In this post, we’ll dig into some of the common and less common causes of back and neck spasms, as well as what you can do to find relief when experiencing one.
Common Causes of Neck Spasms
Most people experience neck or back spasms at some point, if not often, in their life. Here are some of the most common causes:
- Repetitive movements of the neck
- Craning your neck for prolonged periods, like when sitting in front of a computer
- Carrying too heavy of a weight that strains muscles
- Turning your head suddenly, or too far
- Cradling a phone between your head and neck
- Emotional stress that causes you to tense your muscles
- Poor posture
- Strain during exercise
- Cervical spondylosis (arthritis in the spine)
Uncommon Causes of Neck Spasms
If a neck or back spasms persist for a prolonged period, it might be a sign that there’s a more severe, underlying cause. Here are some of the less common, but more severe, causes:
- Meningitis, an infection which causes swelling in the spinal cord and brain
- Spinal stenosis, which is the narrowing of open spaces in the spine
- Herniated disc
- Injury/trauma that occurs from an accident or fall
- Joint disorders such as TMJ (Temporomandibular joint dysfunction)
- Cervical dystonia, a condition where spasms in the neck cause the head to twist to one side
How to Relieve Pain from Neck Spasms
There are a few ways to approach finding relief from neck spasms, whether they’re home remedies or treatments that require medical attention.
Home Remedies for Neck and Back Spasms
If you’re experiencing neck spasms, try these remedies at home for relief:
Since stress is a common cause of muscle spasms, try practicing calming and relaxing activities such as yoga, meditation, or breathing exercises.
Take over-the-counter pain relievers
OTC pain relievers, like aspirin and ibuprofen, reduce inflammation, which can help relieve pain caused by tense muscles.
Ice and heat therapy
Ice and heating packs can be used at home to help ease sore or tight muscles.
Get a massage
Massaging the muscle, and the surrounding muscles, where the spasm is taking place can relieve tension.
Exercise and stretch
Whether you choose to work with a physical therapist or exercise and stretch from your home or the gym, strengthening and loosening muscles can help ease the pain of spasms, as well as prevent future occurrences.
Medical Treatments for Neck and Back Spasms
When the cause of neck or back spasms is more severe, medical intervention may be necessary to find relief. Doctors may employ the following treatments to reduce pain from spasms:
- Muscle relaxants
- Steroid injections
- Pain relief medication
- Anti-inflammatory medication
When to Consult a Doctor
The less common, yet more severe, causes of neck and back spasms often require medical attention. If you’re experiencing symptoms such as chills, sudden high fever, bruise-like marks on the skin, or a chronic headache, consult a doctor immediately.
You should also visit your doctor if the spasm is caused by an accident, to ensure more severe injury or damage wasn’t incurred.