What are Neck Spasms?

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  • Written By: Pamela Pleasant
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 31 July 2019
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Neck spasms refer to the muscles in the neck area moving involuntarily. These movements are contractions and they can be extremely painful. They typically occur after an injury or a strain to the neck area. Pain from these spasms can sometimes be felt in the shoulders and they can also produce migraine headaches. This is because the muscles in the neck extend upward to the head and downward into the shoulders and upper back area.

These spasms can happen for a variety of reasons. Any neck injury can produce these painful contractions but specific injuries that include whiplash and muscle strains are most commonly seen with this type of spasm. A viral infection can also cause neck spasms, but because of the inflammation that accompanies this infection, pain and swelling can be felt in other areas of the body. Tetanus is a condition that occurs when a cut or wound becomes infected, which can causes severe contractions in the skeletal muscles. Tetanus not only causes neck spasms, but also prolonged lockjaw.

Anxiety, stress, and tension can cause spasms in the neck and shoulders. This is caused by a constant tightening of the shoulder and neck muscles and this prolonged tension can also produce pain as well as inflammation surrounding the muscles. A partial prolonged contraction can also occur because of anxiety and stress. If the stress is not eliminated, the neck spasms will continue to worsen.


The symptoms that are seen during neck spasms can include a stiff, painful neck and an inability to move the neck without discomfort. A misalignment of the cervical spine sometimes determines where the pain is felt. Severe muscle spasms can affect the neurological processes and cause weakness, numbness, and a tingling sensation, typically after a prolonged contraction. Extreme pain or severe contractions are not necessarily signs of a dangerous underlying medical condition. The neck spasms that cause the most discomfort are normally stress- or injury-related.

After a muscle spasm occurs, there are a few things that can be done to lessen the pain. Stretching the muscles in the neck and rolling the head from side to side helps to ease the pain of a stiff neck. Applying ice to the sore area can reduce inflammation in the muscles. Aspirin or anti-inflammatory drugs can be taken to reduce cramping. A gentle massage can loosen up tightened muscles in the neck.


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