How to Reduce Neck Spasm Pain

What is a neck spasm? 

Neck spasm pain is an involuntary contraction within the muscles of your neck. An involuntary contraction is a tightening of the muscles within your neck that occurs outside of your conscious control. A neck muscle spasm is a sudden tightening of the neck muscles. An involuntary contraction can be described as the shortening of your muscle fibres without your conscious intent. A neck spasm may be caused by an awkward movement, or tension related to stress.  

Symptoms  

The muscle spasms may cause your neck to feel:  

  • Hard 
  • Tight 
  • Painful 
  • Knotted 
  • Stiff 
  • Difficult to move 
  • Headaches 
  • Tender spots within the neck (aka trigger points) 

This pain can impact you by causing prolonged pain or discomfort during your day-to-day life.

Anatomy of the neck 

The neck is comprised of many muscles: 

  • Sternocleidomastoid 
  • Levator scapulae 
  • Scalene (Anterior, middle and posterior) 
  • Longissimus capitis 
  • Semispinalis and multifidus 
  • Upper trapezius 
  • Splenius (capitis and cervicis) 

Soft tissue Occupational Therapists are experts at finding the exact muscle that is causing your neck pain.

Causes of neck spasm pain 

There may be a number of issues that contribute to your neck spasm pain. As mentioned earlier, the spasm may be a result from awkward turning of the neck or head. Neck spasm may also occur from awkward sleeping positions, poor posture, overuse muscle injury, stress tension or spinal disc or nerve problem. People who sleep on their belly or side sleepers with poor pillow support are more likely to wake with neck spasm pain, due to the awkward positioning of the neck sustained for long hours during sleep. Neck spasm pain generally self resolves within a week. If the pain persists for longer, it has the potential to become a chronic pain, and therefore further medical investigation from a soft tissue occupational therapist may be required.

Diagnosis 

Your soft tissue occupational therapist can diagnose neck spasm pain through examining your neck. This may involve the completion of a postural assessment, a range of motion assessment or palpation your neck and upper shoulder region. 

Treatments 

Stretching: 

Stretching is an effective method to relieve neck muscle spasm pain. Neck spasms cause the muscle to tighten and seize, and therefore stretching does the opposite effect as to loosen your muscles and return length.  

Some neck stretches are listed below: 

Upper Trapezius

This stretch lengthens the sternocleidomastoid and upper trapezius. 

  • Keeping both your shoulders still, tilt your head sideways so that your ear is facing your shoulder. 
  • You should feel a gentle stretch in the side of your neck. 
  • Hold this stretch for 30 seconds.  
  • If you feel pain, stop the movement and consult one of our soft tissue occupational therapists before resuming stretches. 

Levator Scapula

This stretch lengthens the scalene, levator scapulae muscle, splenius capitis and splenius cervicis.  

  • Keeping both shoulders still, tilt your face so that your nose is facing your armpit. 
  • You should feel a gentle stretch in the side of your neck. 
  • You may place your hand on top of your head to gently press your head down. Use the same arm whose armpit you are facing. This will increase the stretch.  
  • Hold this stretch for 30 seconds.  
  • If you feel pain, stop the movement and consult one of our soft tissue occupational therapists before resuming stretches. 

Cervical Paraspinal

This stretch lengthens the longissimus capitis, semispinalis, splenius capitis and splenius cervicis. 

  • Keeping both shoulders still, tilt your head down so that your chin is almost touching your chest. 
  • You should feel a gentle stretch in the back of your neck. 
  • You may place your hands on top of your head and gently press your head down. This will increase the stretch.  
  • Hold this stretch for 30 seconds.  
  • If you feel pain, stop the movement and consult one of our soft tissue occupational therapists before resuming stretches. 

Soft Tissue Occupational Therapy 

Soft tissue occupational therapy treatment focuses on treating musculoskeletal disorders of the body through diagnosis, treatment, and rehabilitation. The overall aim of therapy is to heal and restore function to injured and weakened body parts, as well as to aid and promote wellbeing. Your soft tissue occupational therapist can diagnose the cause of your neck muscle spasm pain to provide effective therapeutic intervention to reduce your pain and restore normal functioning of the neck. A soft tissue occupational therapist is an expert in trigger point release massage therapy and myofascial release. They will provide you with information regarding the recovery time period, activities to avoid, self-management strategies, and symptoms of a relapse to watch out for.  

A soft tissue occupational therapist will use appropriate therapies such as trigger point therapy or myofascial release therapy in form of a ‘massage’ to release trigger points causing muscle spasms.Trigger points are palpable knots within your muscles, which cause muscle spasm pain within the neck. These trigger points can prevent full motion within your neck and may be the potential source of headaches.  

Heat therapy 

Apply a heat pack to the back of your neck. You may also take a hot shower, allowing the water to hit the back of your neck. The heat allows your muscles to relax and increases blood and lymph flow circulation in the area as to allow for an improved healing response. Be wary in using heat as to avoid causing skin irritation or superficial burns to this area.  

Why you shouldn’t use ice therapy 

Ice therapy is generally not recommended, despite its properties in alleviating pain. Ice reduces the inflammation within the muscles. Inflammation is a beneficial immune response that increases the body’s healing process.  Ice decreases the inflammation response, causing decreased blood flow which then reduces the healing process of the body. Ice also causes the muscles to contract and tighten further. Ice may alleviate pain in the short term through numbing the area, but in the long-term causes more pain. It is generally recommended to take anti-inflammatory medication if you are experiencing pain.  

Supplementation 

Magnesium has been found to have muscle relaxing properties. An increase in calcium causes your muscles to tighten over time, which leads to spasms or twitches.  Magnesium allows your muscles to relax by regulating those contractions. This is why our occupational therapists will advise you to take a therapeutic dose of magnesium powder to assist with your neck spasming/headaches.

Stress relief 

Neck spasm pain may be the result of stress and tension. Be sure to take time to stop and relax for a few minutes daily. Practicing mindfulness is helpful in achieving this, mindfulness gives you time to stop, take time out of your day and focus on what is happening in the current moment within yourself. Using apps such as ‘Smiling Mind’ or ‘Stop, breath and think’ makes mindfulness accessible through daily 10-minute mindfulness exercises. Stress relief may also involve a relaxing bath, taking time to participate in your hobbies, listening to calming music, or other activities such as taking a walk. 

If you are dealing with persistent and chronic stress, you may want to get in touch with a psychologist or counsellor.  

At Urban Health HQ our highly trained Soft Tissue Occupational Therapists will use hands on approaches to help treat your injuries, conditions or any concerns you may have. You can make an appointment today by calling 0411 563 391 or email kristen@urbanhealthhq.com.au  

Published by Urban Health HQ

We are a health and fitness centre offering Occupational Therapy, Exercise Physiology, Personal Training and Group Fitness classes.

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