Neck Spasm 

A spasm of the neck muscles can happen after a sudden awkward neck movement. Sleeping with your neck in a crooked position can also cause spasm. Some people respond to emotional stress by tensing the muscles of their neck, shoulders, and upper back. If neck spasm lasts long enough, it can cause a headache.

The treatment described below will usually help the pain to go away in 5 to 7 days. Pain that continues may need further evaluation or other types of treatment such as physical therapy.

Home care

  • Rest and relax the muscles. Use a comfortable pillow that supports the head and keeps the spine in a neutral position. The position of the head should not be tilted forward or backward. A rolled-up towel may help for a custom fit.

  • Some people find relief with heat. Heat can be applied with either a warm shower or bath or a moist towel heated in the microwave and massage. Others prefer cold packs. You can make an ice pack by filling a plastic bag that seals at the top with ice cubes or crushed ice. Then wrap it with a thin towel. Try both and use the method that feels best for 15 to 20 minutes, several times a day.

  • Whether using ice or heat, be careful that you don't injure your skin. Never put ice directly on the skin. Always wrap the ice in a towel or other type of cloth. This is very important, especially in people with poor skin sensation.

  • Try to reduce your stress level. Emotional stress can lead to neck muscle tension and get in the way of or delay the healing process.

  • You may use over-the-counter pain medicine to control pain, unless another medicine was prescribed. If you have chronic liver or kidney disease, ever had a stomach ulcer or gastrointestinal bleeding, or take a blood thinner, talk with your healthcare provider before using these medicines.

  • Protecting your neck from injury and pain includes practicing good posture and body mechanics. The way you move and position your body during daily activities is called body mechanics. Good body mechanics help protect the neck. This means learning the right ways to stand, sit, and even sleep. Talk with your provider to learn ways to protect your neck with proper posture, body mechanics, and home exercise program.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your healthcare provider if your symptoms don't show signs of improvement after one week. Physical therapy or further tests may be needed.

If X-rays, CT scans, or MRI scans were taken, you'll be told of any new findings that may affect your care.

Call 911

Call 911 if you have:

  • Sudden weakness or numbness in one or both arms or legs

  • Neck swelling, trouble with or painful swallowing

  • Trouble breathing

  • Chest pain

When to get medical advice

Call your healthcare provider right away if any of these occur:

  • Pain becomes worse or spreads into 1 or both arms or legs

  • Increasing headache with nausea or vomiting

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or as directed by your healthcare provider

  • Chills

© 2000-2022 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

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