Muscle spasms occur when a particular muscle or group of muscles involuntarily contract. They may occur with general muscle tightness and despite residing on their own, can range from being uncomfortable, to extremely painful. Neck spasms are more commonly caused by muscular issues; however they can be a sign of an underlying issue. If you experience neck spasm pain it may be for one or multiple of the following reasons:
1) Slouching/poor posture:
Due to our increasingly sedentary lifestyle, most of us spend a large portion of the day sitting at a desk or in a car. It is easy to slip into poor postural habits unless we actively practice good posture. For example, if you spend most of your day on a laptop, it may lead to a slouched posture in your neck
and upper back, putting more pressure
on your neck muscles to hold your head
up and causing muscle spasm leading to
pain. If you do this for one day you may
not experience pain, however the more
time you spend in poor postures, the
greater the muscle spasms may be.
2) Carrying heavy items on shoulder:
Putting heavy weight on your shoulder/s may increase stress on the muscles in your neck and shoulder and cause them to tighten. Carrying items such as a heavy bag every day will continuingly place stress on those muscles and over time they may become painful.
3) Carrying heavy objects in one or both hands:
If you frequently carry heavy items throughout your day, especially on one side, this may also contribute to neck spasm pain. By repetitively putting stress on one side of you body you may create muscular imbalance, ie muscles on one side becoming shorter and muscles on the other side becoming longer. Muscular imbalance can cause tightness and pain on one side, but also weakness on the other side.
4) Sustained awkward postures throughout the day:
Postures that involve sustained twisting or flexing of your neck may also contribute to neck spasms. When your head is in a neutral position the muscles are balanced and the load of your head is evenly distributed. If you spend sustained periods of time in an awkward posture (eg looking up/down) certain neck muscles may have to over- compensate to allow that prolonged posture. Having to frequently resume these sustained and awkward postures over a number of days or weeks can significantly impact muscle spasm in your neck and contribute to neck pain.
5) Sustained awkward postures when sleeping:
Photo: India Times
Your sleeping posture may also be a significant factor to experiencing neck spasm pain. Most people stay in the same position for a large proportion of the night. If you sleep on your stomach or close to, your head and neck are unlikely to be in a neutral position. Given that most people may stay in that position for 6-8 hours, your neck muscles may go into spasm throughout the night, causing you to wake up with a sore neck. Having and incorrect pillow according to how you sleep may also be
an influence to your neck pain. If the pillow is not the right height, density and/or shape, it may be forcing your head into an unnatural position which is then sustained throughout the night.
6) Straining your neck during exercise:
Although exercise has many benefits for the body and mind, it is important to consider how incorrect technique may put unnecessary stress on your body. When you are exercising, especially in a strenuous manner or weight lifting, you may be more focused on activity itself, rather than how your body is positioned. This may cause you to unconsciously tense other muscles in response to this stress, causing them to tighten. If you are someone who exercises regularly, it may be worth taking note of how different parts of your body are positioned during your workout to help identify if you are tensing other muscles in response to exercising.
7) Stress or anxiety:
The physiological effect of emotional stress or anxiety can also contribute to neck spasm pain. It may be caused by a constant, but low level, of activation of the upper shoulder muscles throughout the day. Think about a day when you had a stressful shift at work, a full list of duties to complete at home or a week where you felt like you didn’t get a chance to stop for a breath. Did you notice
any tension in your shoulders or neck, or a
slight headache by the time you went to
bed? The stress you experienced may have
caused you to be lifting your shoulders up
the whole day, constantly activating the
muscles and never giving them time to
relax. If you are experiencing frequent
stress if your daily life, this may have a
cumulative affect on muscle spasming,
causing you neck pain.
Photo: Virtual Vocations
How to get relief from painful neck spasms:
The good news is that if your neck spasm pain is uncomfortable, mild or severe, there are several options to get relief.
1) Soft Tissue Occupational Therapy
Soft Tissue Occupational Therapists specialize in treating muscle spasms and pain caused by muscular tension. They use a hands-on manual approach to release and relieve tight muscles, allowing them to heal and relax. They can also help you identify if your pain is being caused by other muscles on your body being in spasm without you realizing, after all everything in the body is connected some way.
2) Strengthen neck and shoulder muscles
A Soft Tissue Occupational Therapist can also assist you in strengthening your neck and shoulder muscles to help relive pain. Poor recruitment of muscles can result in uneven muscle tone causing pain. A Soft Tissue Occupational Therapist can recommend a variety of exercises and stretches to complete throughout your week which will help reduce neck muscle spasm and increase stability of the joints related to it. Strong and stable joints with correct recruitment of muscles may assist in decreasing neck muscle spasm pain and allow you to experience relief
Photo: Lawrence Park Health
3) Modify activities that require frequent heavy lifting
A Soft Tissue Occupational Therapist can also look at how you could modify different activities during your day to avoid unnecessary heavy lifting. Of course, the nature of some jobs will not allow for this, but assessing other areas of your life that you could make small changes in to reduce frequent heavy lifting could make a significant difference to your neck pain.
4) Break up awkward postures during the day with stretches
If you are spending the whole day on your computer or a desk at work, only breaking for lunch and repeating this week in week out, your neck is very likely to be in a sustained and awkward posture. Taking small micro breaks every hour for 30 seconds to a minute, just to gently stretch your neck and shoulders, can help with breaking up these sustained and awkward postures. Planning these breaks into your day can also help you to make sure you take them. For example, setting your self your work tasks in the morning, and scheduling a 1 min stretch break between them can give your muscles a chance to relax throughout the day.
5) Consider investing in a better pillow Pillows should be changed yearly to ensure you are getting correct support when you are sleeping. Depending on whether you are a stomach, side or back sleeper (or a combination), getting a proper pillow that will support your head and neck will help maintain alignment and prevent further muscle spasms
in your neck. It may be worth noting that some pillows can be quite expensive and
considering it needs to be changed yearly, doing your own research to find a pillow that suits your needs and budget may be worth the time and effort.
6) Be mindful during exercise
Whilst completing a workout or any strenuous exercise, pay attention to how your body is moving. This may assist with identifying if you are unconsciously tensing any neck muscles in response to physical stress. Rather than just completing the exercise without thinking, take a few moments to check the positioning of your neck and shoulders during each exercise to ensure you are not putting unnecessary stress on them.
7) Work on reducing your stress levels
This may seem easier said than done but taking the time to identify ways to help lower your stress levels may have a very beneficial impact on your neck spasm pain. Everyone responds to stress differently so what will work for one person to reduce their stress levels may not work for another. Examples of different methods people use are regular exercise, meditation of some form, scheduling breaks into their day, setting aside time to engage in hobbies or setting time aside to spend with family/friends.