A neck spasm is when your neck muscles suddenly, involuntarily tighten. Your neck becomes painful and stiff, likely affecting your ability to turn your head. An awkward neck movement or stress-related muscle tension is often what triggers a neck spasm. While the experience may not last too long, it can be very unpleasant.

Neck muscle spasms are a relatively common occurrence, typically occuring when one or more muscles becomes painfully tight and/or fatigued. Read Understanding Neck Spasms

If you have a neck spasm, here’s a quick guide to relieving the pain.

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Stretch

Try to relax your spasming neck muscles. Stretching may be an effective method to loosen and soften your muscles, which tighten and seize up during a spasm.

See Neck Stretches

Perform a stretch that lengthens your lateral neck muscles. One way to do this is to keep your shoulders in place and tilt your ear toward your shoulder until you feel a stretch in the side of your neck. But if a certain movement causes more pain, stop it and gently try a different movement.

See Easy Levator Scapulae Stretch for Neck Pain

Try these 4 stretches to relax the neck muscles, which tighten and seize up during a spasm. Watch: 4 Easy Stretches for Neck and Shoulder Pain Video

Get a massage

Massage therapy can help you relax, which may calm your tight muscles and ease the pain from your neck spasm. Gentle pressure placed on the stiff, tender points in your neck may release tension from the constricted muscles, providing relief and restoring range of motion to your neck.

See Massage Therapy for Chronic Stiff Neck

Take NSAIDs

Over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID), such as ibuprofen (e.g., Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (e.g., Aleve), may help reduce inflammation and relieve pain brought on by a neck spasm. These medications won’t treat any underlying problems that may be setting off your neck spasm, but they can provide quick-acting first aid. Be sure to check with your doctor or pharmacist before use.

See Medications for Back Pain and Neck Pain

Apply cold/heat therapy

Applying heat and/or cold therapy can help to relieve pain and inflammation in your neck.

Cold therapy can reduce local inflammation, which may help relieve pain from your neck spasm. Fill a plastic bag with ice and some water and wrap it in a thin towel, then press it against the painful area on your neck.

See Ice Packs for Back Pain Relief

You may also find relief through heat therapy. Apply a heating pad, switched on a low setting, to the tender area of your neck. If you prefer, stand in the shower with a gentle stream of warm water hitting your neck. The warmth can increase blood flow to the affected area and soothe your pain overall.

See How to Apply Heat Therapy

When applying ice or heat, limit applications to about 15 minutes every 2 hours to reduce the risk for skin damage.

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Relax

Your neck spasm may indicate that your neck has moved in ways it shouldn’t, and your tense muscles probably need a rest. One way to relax is to lie on your back with a cervical pillow or neck roll under your head and a pillow under your knees. Play calming music or a podcast to help pass the time as you relax.

Watch: Pillows and Positions for Easing Neck Pain Video

Most neck spasms occur because of a sudden muscle strain and should clear up within a week. If the pain persists or gets worse, it may indicate an underlying spinal problem. If this describes your experience, visit your doctor.

See What Causes Neck Spasms?

Learn more:

Chronic Neck Pain: What Condition Is Causing My Neck Pain?

Treatment for Neck Pain

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