What is neck spasm?

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Neck spasm: Overview

A neck spasm is sudden tightness and pain in your neck muscles. A spasm may be caused by some activities or repeated movements. For example, you may be more likely to have a neck spasm if you slouch, paint a ceiling, work at a computer, or sleep with your neck twisted. But the cause isn't always clear.

Home treatment includes using heat or ice, taking over-the-counter (OTC) pain medicines, and avoiding activities that may lead to neck pain. Gentle stretching, or treatments such as massage or manipulation, may also help ease a neck spasm.

For a neck spasm that doesn't get better with home care, your doctor may prescribe medicine. The doctor may also suggest exercise or physical therapy to help strengthen or relax your neck muscles.

How can you care for a neck spasm?

  • Try heat or ice, whichever feels better. Apply it for 10 to 20 minutes at a time, several times a day. Put a thin cloth between the heat or ice and your skin. You might also try switching between heat and ice.
  • Ask your doctor if you can take acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen or naproxen. Your doctor can prescribe stronger medicines if needed. Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
  • Stretch your muscles every day, especially before and after exercise and at bedtime. Regular stretching can help relax your muscles.
  • Try to find a pillow and a position in bed that help improve your night's rest.
  • Try to stay active. It's best to start activity slowly. If an exercise makes your pain worse, stop doing it.

Neck spasm: When to call

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You are unable to move an arm or a leg at all.

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have new or worse symptoms in your arms, legs, belly, or buttocks. Symptoms may include:
    • Numbness or tingling.
    • Weakness.
    • Pain.
  • You lose bladder or bowel control.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You do not get better as expected.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.