What is a neck spasm?

Neck spasm is a sudden and involuntary contraction, or uncontrollable tightening and shaking, of a muscle in response to strain, overuse, weakness, or muscle pain related to injury or a disorder. In some conditions, such as cervical dystonia, the spasm may cause your head to turn or to jerk. Some, but not all, neck spasms occur close enough to the spinal cord or to the nerve roots leading in and out of the spinal cord to put pressure on one of these sensitive nerves and sometimes cause severe pain.

Neck Problems Spotlight

Neck spasms can be caused by a tic, muscle strain, or muscle tension, either from physical exertion, such as heavy lifting or a strenuous workout, or from tensing the muscles unconsciously in response to stress. You may also strain a muscle in response to pain from another condition. Neck spasms can also occur as a side effect of certain medications, including haloperidol (Haldol) and metoclopramide (Reglan).

In addition, neck spasms can be symptomatic of either an injury such as a fracture or another disorder, such as:

  • Spasmodic torticollis (also known as cervical dystonia)
  • Chronic disorder that causes involuntary movements of the neck)
  • Cervical spondylosis (degenerative disc disease in the neck) 
  • Herniated disc
  • Viral infection
  • Degenerative disc disease (caused by wear and tear and the effects of aging on the spine)
  • Spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal, creating pressure on the spinal cord or nerves)
  • Tension headache
  • Fibromyalgia (chronic condition that causes pain, stiffness and tenderness)
  • Meningitis (infection or inflammation of the sac around the brain and spinal cord)
  • Osteomyelitis (bone infection)

Neck spasm in itself is not a serious condition, but in some cases it can be a symptom of a serious condition. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) for serious symptoms of nerve compression, such as loss of sensation in the limbs or shoulders, a complete loss of balance, or if you have a stiff neck along with any of the following symptoms: high fever (higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit), headache, increased sensitivity to light, or nausea with or without vomiting. Also seek immediate careif you experience pronounced weakness in the arms or abnormal sensations in the limbs or shoulders.

If your neck spasm is persistent or causes you concern, seek prompt medical care.


What other symptoms might occur with a neck spasm?

Neck spasm may accompany other symptoms that vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Symptoms that frequently affect the neck or spine may also involve other body systems.

Musculoskeletal symptoms that may occur along with a neck spasm

Neck spasm may accompany other symptoms affecting the musculoskeletal system including:


What causes a neck spasm?

Neck spasms can be caused by a muscle strain or muscle tension, either from physical exertion or from tensing the muscles unconsciously in response to stress.

Physical causes of a neck spasm

Neck spasm may be caused by external physical conditions including:

Medical Reviewer: Cynthia Haines, MD Last Annual Review Date: Aug 7, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Bones, Joints and Muscles

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