Muscle spasms are involuntary contractions of a muscle. They are a common components of neck pain and injuries and can be the result of many different conditions. In most cases, muscle spasms are minor annoyances that improve quickly on their own or with conservative treatments. Sometimes neck muscle spasms can be a sign of something more serious or progressive. A muscle spasm or cramp can often be treated by using an ice or heat pack, gently stretching the muscle, and exercising the affected muscles.
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Arthritis is a term that is used to describe a number of different conditions, but it technically means "joint inflammation." Osteoarthritis is a condition caused by the wear and tear breakdown of the joints and cartilage. As this form of arthritis progresses, it can cause damage to the surrounding soft tissues, including nerves and muscles. This leads to the common occurrence of muscle spasms in many of the different muscles surrounding the cervical spine. In some instances, osteoarthritis can cause bone spur growth or collapsing of the joint, both of which can put pressure on nearby spinal nerves. This results in symptoms of pain, muscle weakness, muscle spasm, numbness and tingling, according to Cedars-Sinai.
The cervical spine is comprised of seven bones called vertebrae which are separated by soft spongy discs. The spinal disc is designed to absorb shock, but over time or through injury, it can degenerate, bulge or herniate into the spinal canal. When this happens, the disc material can put pressure directly on to the spinal cord or the delicate spinal nerves that branch off of the cord at each vertebral level. According to the Cleveland Clinic, a herniated disc that puts pressure on a nerve causes local and radiating pain that can travel to the shoulder, down the arms and into the fingertips. It can also cause numbness and tingling, muscle weakness and muscle spasms in the neck. Most herniated discs respond well to conservative treatment and do not require surgical repair.
A muscle strain occurs when a muscle is overstretched in a sudden, somewhat traumatic fashion. This leads to tearing of the muscle fibers and can range from mild micro-tearing to complete rupture of the muscle. Muscle strains are a common result in automobile accidents, sports injuries and slip and fall injuries. According to Dr. Stephen C. Ludwig, chief of spine surgery at the University of Maryland Medical Center, when muscles are strained, the area of injury becomes inflamed and this inflammation can lead to muscle spasms, localized pain and bruising. Most muscle strains will resolve well with the use of ice, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen, naproxen and aspirin, and appropriate physical therapy.
Prolonged poor posture can cause neck pain combined with muscle spasms, according to MedlinePlus, a service of the National Institutes of Health. This is the result of a basic overuse injury, where the muscles of the neck are strained over a long period of time by poor posture.