What is Muscle Spasm in Neck?
Muscle Spasm in neck is a condition where there is sudden, involuntary contraction of the neck muscles or uncontrollable shaking and tightening of the neck muscles. The neck muscles get very hard, tight and painful. The cause could be strain, weakness, overuse, some injury or disorder. In certain medical conditions such as cervical dystonia, the muscle spasm in the neck causes jerking and turning of the patient’s head. Most of the muscle spasm in the neck occurs near the spinal cord.
Causes of Muscle Spasm in Neck
There are various causes of muscle spasm in neck, such as injury, bad posture, overuse, stress and some medical disorder. Individuals who have to work sitting at desk, at their computer for long hours are prone to suffer from muscle spasm in neck. If a person sleeps in a wrong or uncomfortable position, then he/she may wake up with a muscle spasm in neck. Other causes include muscle strain, tic, muscle tension. Rigorous physical exertion, such as strenuous workout or heavy lifting can cause muscle tension. Muscle spasm in the neck can also occur as a side effect of certain medications, such as metoclopramide and haloperidol.
Other than this, muscle spasm in the neck can occur as a symptom of some injury or some medical disorders, such as:
- Cervical dystonia or spasmodic torticollis.
- Cervical spondylosis (cervical degenerative disc disease).
- Viral infection.
- Herniated disc.
- Degenerative disc disease of the spine.
- Spinal stenosis.
- Tension headache.
Symptoms of Muscle Spasm in Neck
The neck muscles feel tense, stiff, painful and tight. If there is spasm in the muscles which travel from the shoulders to the head, then it can result in headache and tender points (trigger points) in the neck, which also cause pain in other places.
Muscle Spasm in neck in itself is not a serious condition; however, sometimes it can be an indication or a sign of some serious underlying medical condition. Serious symptoms for which immediate medical attention should be sought are:
- Loss of sensation in the shoulders or limbs.
- Abnormal sensations in the shoulders or limbs
- Complete loss of balance.
- Extreme weakness in the arms.
- Neck stiffness with high fever.
- Neck stiffness with headache.
- Neck stiffness with nausea with or without vomiting.
- Neck stiffness with increased sensitivity to light.
Diagnosis & Treatment of Muscle Spasm in Neck
The doctor takes patient’s medical history and performs physical examination of the patient’s neck to arrive at a diagnosis. Treatment of muscle spasm in neck consists of:
- Rest is very important to relieve the neck pain and neck spasm. Activities which are causing pain should also be avoided.
- Gentle stretching exercises help in relieving the neck spasms.
- Gently massaging the stiff muscles in the neck also helps in getting rid of muscle spasm in neck.
- Ice application such as ice pack or application of a packet of frozen vegetables wrapped in a towel to the affected muscles of the neck thrice a day for 20 minutes helps a lot.
- Moist heat application benefits a lot, especially in recurrent muscle spasm in neck. Moist heat includes moist heating pads and heat patches. Wet towel or washcloth that was heated in a dryer also helps. Taking a hot shower also helps in relieving muscle spasm in neck. However, heat application should be avoided if there is any swelling with the neck spasm.
- Medications such as NSAIDs (naproxen or ibuprofen) or muscle relaxants can be prescribed to relieve muscle spasm in neck. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines should be used with caution and should not exceed the duration for which the doctor has prescribed.
- Physical therapy consisting of gentle stretching exercises and other exercises designed by the physical therapist helps in relieving the neck spasms along with strengthening the neck muscles and increasing the flexibility.
- Stress management is an important part to relieve neck spasms, as they can also occur due to stress or depression. So, it is important to seek help with a counselor or psychologist if there are emotional problems along with neck spasm.
- Steroid medicine can also be prescribed if the condition is severe or a steroid injection can be given into the muscle to relieve muscle spasm in neck. This is done only when the above approaches fail to give relief.
Prevention of Muscle Spasm in Neck
- The common causes of muscle spasm in neck, such as stress, overuse, poor posture should be avoided.
- Always take frequent breaks and stretch your neck muscles when working at a desk or computer. It is also important to adopt a good posture when working or otherwise.
- The neck spasm should be treated right away in its initial stages when symptoms such as pain and tightness in the neck are felt. Early treatment helps in preventing worsening of the symptoms.
Prognosis of Muscle Spasm in Neck
The pain felt from muscle spasm in neck can last for a few days to a few weeks. It is important to rest and abstain from activities which are causing pain until the muscles in the neck have healed. If the patient continues to perform activities which cause pain, then there will be recurrence of neck spasms and recovery from them will take longer.