Muscle spasms in the neck occur for a variety of reasons, including whiplash from an automobile collision, poor posture, sports injury, or overusing and straining your neck muscles. Treatment involves correcting the underlying cause and applying comfort measures.
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Over-the-counter analgesics such as acetaminophen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDS, may relieve the pain of neck spasms. A health care provider may prescribe stronger NSAIDS or narcotic painkillers for short-term use. Muscle relaxants such as cyclobenzaprine, methocarbamol or metaxalone may also relieve neck spasms. However, these medications may cause adverse side effects such as fatigue, nausea, blurred vision, headache, nervousness and confusion, especially in elderly patients. Some individuals may find relief from medications injected by a health care provider, including corticosteroids.
Applying ice or cold packs to the neck for 20 minutes every hour while awake may help relieve muscle spasms during the first two days after an injury. Thereafter, you may use a heating pad to relieve spasms, taking care to avoid burning your skin by leaving the device on too long. Heat is typically applied for 20 minutes at a time, several times per day, for 3 to 4 days until your muscle spasm is relieved.
Reducing activity for a day or two may help relieve spasms, but a long period of bed rest might cause the neck muscles to stiffen. Because the neck must hold your head up, lying down for brief periods gives the muscles a chance to rest. In severe cases you may need to temporarily use a cervical collar to support your neck while you are upright. Contour pillows may provide support and pain relief when you are resting.
After you experience some pain relief, physical therapy may help to reduce spasms, strengthen your muscles, improve posture and prevent future episodes of pain. Physical therapy may include electrical stimulation, ultrasound, stretching and strengthening exercises, massage and neck manipulation.
If neck muscle spasms result from an injury or deformity of the spinal column and cannot be relieved by nonsurgical methods, a spinal fusion or other surgical procedure that corrects the underlying problem may relieve the spasms.