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 and then wrapping 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 or ever had a stomach ulcer or gastrointestinal bleeding, talk with your healthcare provider before using these medicines.

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 will 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 seek medical advice

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

  • Pain becomes worse or spreads into one 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

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