A muscle spasm in the neck is a relatively common occurrence, which typically involves one or more muscles becoming painfully tight and/or fatigued. Neck spasms can interfere with everyday activities such as driving, concentrating, or carrying heavy items.

The Course of Neck Spasms

A neck spasm typically has a sudden onset but can also start gradually. Many people with neck spasms experience one or more of the following:

  • Constant or throbbing neck pain, which can range from dull or mild to sharp or burning, and may also go down into the arm

    See Types of Neck Pain

  • Twitching with repeated muscle contraction and relaxation occurring rapidly (also called fasciculation)
  • Decreased range of motion in the neck and head, sometimes resulting in a stiff neck that cannot move in a specific direction, such as bending or turning to the side

    See Stiff Neck Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

  • Cramping with the muscle strongly contracting and not relaxing, which may feel like a tightened knot and/or include sharp pain
  • Headache that may start at the same time as the neck spasm, or perhaps as a result of an ongoing spasm and stress

    See What Is Causing My Neck Pain and Headache?

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The intensity of a neck spasm can vary greatly, ranging from a flutter in a small neck muscle that is easily ignored to a stronger contraction that pulls the neck and head in another direction. If a neck spasm involves severe pain or pulls the head to one direction, it may also include:

  • Trouble with vision, such as from an inability to hold the head still or blurred vision
  • Dizziness or balance issues
  • Fatigue from numerous head movements, intense pain, and/or elevated stress levels

See Understanding Neck Pain and Dizziness

Neck spasms typically resolve within a few minutes or hours, but it is possible for them to last much longer and become chronic.

In This Article:

Development of Neck Spasms

The exact mechanisms involved in the development of neck spasms are not well understood.

One or more of the following factors may cause a neck muscle spasm:

  • A muscle tries to protect itself, such as from strain, overuse, fatigue, inflammation, and/or spinal instability
  • A muscle receives altered electrical signals due to an abnormality in the nerve pathways or the brain

See Neck Strain: Causes and Remedies

For many years it was commonly thought that an electrolyte imbalance in a muscle, such as from dehydration, could contribute to muscle spasms or cramps, but that theory has not been supported by evidence in recent years.1

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Getting a Diagnosis for Neck Spasms

For neck spasms that linger longer or keep returning, a diagnosis for the underlying cause is typically sought. A physical medicine and rehabilitation doctor (physiatrist), physical therapist, or chiropractor can accurately diagnose the cause of neck spasms in most instances.

See Diagnosing Neck Pain

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