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:

  • Fracture
  • Muscle strain (physical overexertion)
  • Muscle tension (stress-induced or in reaction to pain elsewhere)
  • Physical overexertion (heavy lifting or strenuous exercise)

Pathologic causes of a neck spasm

Neck spasms may be symptomatic of a primary disorder including:

  • Cervical dystonia (spasmodic torticollis, a condition that causes painful neck muscle spasms
  • Cervical spondylosis (wear and tear on the bones of the cervical spine)
  • Degenerative disc disease
  • Drug side effects, for example, from metoclopramide (Reglan) or haloperidol (Haldol)
  • Fibromyalgia (chronic condition that causes pain, stiffness and tenderness)
  • Herniated disc
  • Osteomyelitis (bone infection)
  • Spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal)
  • Spondylitis (infection or inflammation of the spinal joints)
  • Tension headache
  • Tic (disorder of harmless involuntary movements)
  • Viral infection

Serious or life-threatening causes of a neck spasm

In some cases, neck spasm may be a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. These include:

  • Meningitis (infection or inflammation of the sac around the brain and spinal cord)
  • Tumors

Questions for diagnosing the cause of a neck spasm

To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your neck spasm including:

  • How long have you had these spasms?
  • Do they cause any jerking of your head?
  • Have you also had a stiff neck?
  • Have you had a high fever? Any headaches? Sensitivity to light?
  • Have you had any nausea with or without vomiting?
  • Do you experience any tingling, numbness, or loss of sensation in any part of your body?
  • Have you experienced episodes of weakness in any of your muscles?
  • How is your balance? Any trouble with coordination?
  • Do you have any other symptoms?

What are the potential complications of a neck spasm?

Because neck spasm can be due to serious diseases, failure to seek treatment can result in serious complications and permanent damage. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan that you and your health care professional design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications including:

  • Chronic or permanent pain
  • Eventual reduced flexibility and mobility
  • Paralysis
  • Permanent nerve damage or disability
  • Progressive pain, weakness, and loss of muscle function


  1. Back spasm. Cedars-Sinai. http://www.cedars-sinai.edu/Patients/Health-Conditions/Back-Spasm.aspx.
  2. Charley horse. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002066.htm.


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 an... Read more about neck spasmintroduction


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:

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

What's Causing Your Symptoms?