A neck spasm occurs when your neck muscles suddenly, involuntarily tighten. Your neck becomes painful and stiff, likely affecting the ability to turn your head. An awkward neck movement or stress-related muscle tension is often what triggers a neck spasm. Here’s a quick guide to relieving the pain.
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. If a certain movement causes more pain, stop it and gently try a different movement.
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.
Over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID), such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve), may help reduce inflammation and relieve pain brought on by a neck spasm. These medications won’t treat the underlying problems that may have triggered your neck spasm, but they can provide quick-acting first aid to reduce pain.
Before using any medication, carefully read the warning label. If you’re already taking a medication, check with your doctor or pharmacist before using another medication.
Apply cold/heat therapy
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.
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, relax muscles, and soothe your pain.
When applying ice or heat, limit applications to about 15 minutes every 2 hours to reduce the risk for skin damage.
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.
When to See Your Doctor
Most neck spasms occur because of a sudden muscle strain and should clear up within a week. Pain that persists or gets worse may indicate an underlying spinal problem, such as osteoarthritis or herniated disc. For any unexplained neck pain that does not start to feel better within a week or so, visit your doctor. If your neck pain is accompanied by a severe headache, dizziness, nausea, arm numbness/weakness, or other troubling symptoms, seek immediate medical attention.