What Does Cervical Spasm Treatment Involve?

What is a spasm?

A muscle spasm is an involuntary tightening of the muscles – these muscles tighten without your conscious intent. Muscle spasms can cause pain, stiffness tension, cramps, weakness, aches or difficulty with movements. Muscle spasms within the neck (cervical region) can be root cause of your frequent headaches. Spasms can occur as a body reflex to protect itself from further injury or harm. Unfortunately, muscle spasms can occur from a daily activity such as from poor sleep positioning, poor posture, overuse, stress, a sudden movement, awkward turn of the neck, or after a workout. If your cervical spasm symptoms do not disappear within a fortnight, book in to see a soft tissue occupational therapist to get a diagnosis and treatment. 

What is the cervical region? 

The cervical region of the body is associated with the neck. If we look at a diagram of the spine, we can see that the spine is divided into 4 sections: cervical, thoracic, lumbar and sacral/pelvic. These divisions signify the different curves of the spine and allow for easier identification of the spinal vertebrae bones. 

Muscles of the cervical region

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 in finding the exact muscle that is causing muscle spasms and neck pain. 

Home treatments

Here is a list of treatments that your soft tissue occupational therapist may advise you to do at home.

Sleep positioning

If you are a belly sleeper, unfortunately this position is the worst for your neck, due to the twisted positioning of the neck for an extended period of time. If you experience a lot of neck cramping or pain, it may be time change how you position yourself when you sleep at night.

Sleeping on your side is more appropriate for your neck, if you have an appropriate pillow that supports your neck. Ideally, your spine should be in a straight position, without your head being too high or sunken into the pillow, which causes awkward positioning. Avoid memory foam pillows, as they will exaggerate poor postures throughout the night. As a side sleeper, your head will sink further into the memory foam throughout the night, slowly causing a sideways tilt within your neck. 

Sleeping on your back is the best sleeping position for your posture overall. When laying down, inappropriate neck positioning would be when your chin is almost touching your chest, or if your chin is starting to tilt too far back, towards the ceiling. Your head should be level on the pillow and your spine should remain level.

Heat therapy

Apply a heat pack to the back of your neck. You can also take a hot shower, allowing the water to hit behind your neck, or take a warm bath. The heat allows your muscles to relax and increases blood circulation in the area to allow for healing. Heat therapy should be limited to 15-20 minutes at a time, as to not aggravate your skin too much and accidentally cause superficial burns. 

Why you shouldn’t use ice therapy

Ice therapy is generally not recommended, despite its properties in alleviating pain. Ice decreases the inflammation response, reducing blood flow, which then reduces the healing process of the body. Inflammation is a beneficial immune response that increases the body’s healing process, even though it may cause pain and discomfort.  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.

Magnesium supplements

Adding more magnesium into your diet either through supplements or altering your diet can be a beneficial addition to your cervical spasm treatment plan. Magnesium is effective in relaxing the muscles, reducing inflammation and reducing migraines. Magnesium has a role in regulating your muscle contractions. Muscles that are tight will have a build-up of calcium, which maintains the tightness. Magnesium helps flush out this calcium and therefore allows the muscles to relax. 

You can add more magnesium in your diet by eating more leafy green vegetables (spinach), legumes, nuts (cashews, almonds, peanuts), seeds and whole-grains.

Stretches

Stretches are an effective and easy cervical spasm treatment. During a muscle spasm, your muscle contracts and tightens. Stretching does the opposite, by lengthening the muscle. Stretches should be done consistently on a daily basis over a period of time for an improvement in symptoms. 

Please note: 

  • If your neck is ‘frozen’ or stuck in a certain posture and you are unable to move it, do not attempt these stretches. Instead, book in to see a soft tissue occupational therapist to get proper management of your symptoms.
  • If you feel any pain during these stretches, stop the movement and book in to consult a soft tissue occupational therapist. 

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. This will increase the stretch.  
  • Hold this stretch for a minimum of 30 seconds.  

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. Use the same arm whose armpit you are facing. This will increase the stretch.  
  • Hold this stretch for 30 seconds.  Swap sides. 

 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.  Swap sides. 

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 pain to provide effective therapeutic cervical spasm treatment to reduce your pain and restore normal functioning of the neck. 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.

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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