Neck Spasm: Care Instructions

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A neck spasm is sudden tightness and pain in your neck muscles. A spasm may be caused by some activities or repeated movements. For example, you may be more likely to have a neck spasm if you slouch, paint a ceiling, work at a computer, or sleep with your neck twisted. But the cause isn't always clear.

Home treatment includes using heat or ice, taking over-the-counter (OTC) pain medicines, and avoiding activities that may lead to neck pain. Gentle stretching, or treatments such as massage or manipulation, may also help ease a neck spasm.

For a neck spasm that doesn't get better with home care, your doctor may prescribe medicine. The doctor may also suggest exercise or physical therapy to help strengthen or relax your neck muscles.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Try heat or ice, whichever feels better. Apply it for 10 to 20 minutes at a time, several times a day. Put a thin cloth between the heat or ice and your skin. You might also try switching between heat and ice.
  • Ask your doctor if you can take acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen or naproxen. Your doctor can prescribe stronger medicines if needed. Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
  • Stretch your muscles every day, especially before and after exercise and at bedtime. Regular stretching can help relax your muscles.
  • Try to find a pillow and a position in bed that help improve your night's rest.
  • Try to stay active. It's best to start activity slowly. If an exercise makes your pain worse, stop doing it.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You are unable to move an arm or a leg at all.

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have new or worse symptoms in your arms, legs, belly, or buttocks. Symptoms may include:
    • Numbness or tingling.
    • Weakness.
    • Pain.
  • You lose bladder or bowel control.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You do not get better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

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The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.