Updated: Mar 26
Have you ever experienced at the end of the day a tight neck, or perhaps you struggle to turn your head to look over your shoulder?
Do you experience tension headaches or numbness, pins and needles down the arm into either the elbow or fingers? What about tired or dry eyes? Has anyone said you have 'tech head' or you feel that your head is forward of your shoulders and my personal dislike - has anyone mentioned the dreaded 'dowagers hump'?
As a Sports Massage Therapist I frequently treat clients who suffer with neck and shoulder pain. Let me take you through how some of the issues arise. All of these maybe a result of your neck and cervical spine 'mal-adapting' to an injury, repetitive patterns such as how we sit at our desk, watch TV, or how we walk and play sports.
Development of Neck Spasms
The exact mechanisms involved in the development of neck spasms are not well understood.
One or more of the following factors may cause a neck muscle spasm:
A muscle tries to protect itself, such as from strain, overuse, fatigue, inflammation and/or spinal instability
A muscle receives altered electrical signals due to an abnormality in the nerve pathways or the brain
If a neck spasm involves severe pain or pulls the head to one direction, it may also include:
Trouble with vision, such as from an inability to hold the head still or blurred vision
Dizziness or balance issues
Fatigue from numerous head movements, intense pain, and/or elevated stress levels
The Course of Neck Spasms
A neck spasm typically has a sudden onset but can also start gradually. Many people with neck spasms experience one or more of the following:
Constant or throbbing neck pain, which can range from dull or mild to sharp or burning, and may also go down into the arm
Twitching with repeated muscle contraction and relaxation occurring rapidly (also called fasciculation)
Decreased range of movement in the neck and head, sometimes resulting in a stiff neck that cannot move in a specific direction, such as bending or turning to the side
Cramping with the muscle strongly contracting and not relaxing, which may feel like a tightened knot and/or include sharp pain
Headache that may start at the same time as the neck spasm, or perhaps as a result of an ongoing spasm and stress
Potential Neck Spasm Causes
The underlying cause of a neck spasm may be:
Neck strain or sprain. A small tear or strain in a neck muscle can cause it to tighten and/or spasm as a protective mechanism against stretching too far. An injury or sprain to a nearby ligament may cause a reflex muscle spasm where the non-injured muscle tightens in order to protect the nearby injured ligament.
Overexertion or fatigue. When a muscle is overworked, it is at increased risk for developing pain and going into spasm. Some evidence suggests that muscles worked in high-temperature environments are also at an increased risk for muscle spasms.1
Herniated disc. If an intervertebral disc herniates in the cervical spine and starts leaking inflammatory proteins, nearby muscles in the neck can become inflamed and painful, causing them to spasm.
Facet joint osteoarthritis. When the facet joint’s protective cartilage starts wearing away, the adjacent vertebrae start grinding against each other. This can occur and is considered as 'normal wear and tear' for most of us as we age. Bone spurs (osteophytes) can grow in an attempt to stabilize the joint, which increases inflammation and the risk for nerve compression, both of which may contribute to neck spasms.
Mechanical dysfunction. Any type of mechanical dysfunction that prevents the joint from going through its normal range of motion can increase the likelihood for muscle spasms. This type of joint dysfunction can have many causes, such as bone spurs, injury, poor posture, or congenital abnormalities from birth.
Peripheral neuropathy. Nerves that branch outside of the spinal canal and feed into the various parts of the body are called peripheral nerves. If a peripheral nerve in the neck becomes damaged—such as from disease or a lesion—it may malfunction by sending too many signals, altered signals, or fewer/no signals. Peripheral neuropathy can potentially lead to various problems with sensory, reflex, and motor functions, including muscle spasms.
How can you reduce and or improve constant neck pain?
Most injuries or symptoms of chronic pain can be eased with the application of some heat, wheat bag or hot water bottle and gentle mobilisation exercises. All of my Sports Massage clients are advised this and if appropriate I provide series of exercises using my Rehab My Patient app they are emailed to you and are easily accessed using your phone, tablet or desktop.
During treatment I will generally ask the following. Are you sitting at a desk for more than an hour and not moving? If so, its worth checking out how you are sat at your desk or kitchen table, as so many of us have done during lock down. There are simple techniques to lift a laptop or screen so its at eye level, how about using a pile of books or an empty Amazon box! This reduces the need to look down at your monitor, which is fatal for necks!
Elbows and hands should feel relaxed, I prefer to rest my elbows on the table so may shoulders can remain away from my ears! The DSE have a helpful free pdf that you can download to consider how you set up your working area and it can be found here. Perhaps print if off and see how you can improve your working environment.
Are you a walker? Walk to the shops, to friends or stroll through the countryside? Keep your eyes on the horizon and use the eyes to check out what's coming up in front of you. Heads are more heavy than you think and looking at the ground not only strains the cervical spine, it can also cause the dreaded dowagers hump! My previous blog 'Head, shoulders, knees and toes' has more information so click here to read more.
Are you a jaw clencher or do you grind your teeth? Generally if you wake up in the morning with with a painful jaw, unable to fully open your mouth and as you wake up the jaw eases then I would say you are a jaw clencher. We frequently clench our jaws when we are concentrating, learning something new, having a difficult conversation, driving, using machinery etc all can result in clenching our jaw. Click and read my blog 'Jaw Dropping' for some self help ideas. Or book a CranialSacral appointment as this is wonderful for treating and releasing jaw tension.
Persistent and chronic neck pain can be quite miserable for many of us. Waking up or going to sleep with the same tension headache is no way to live your life.
Sports and Remedial Massage is highly effective in managing the symptoms of chronic neck pain. I use a number of modalities to treat chronic neck and jaw pain, this includes the EMMETT Technique, clients with painful jaws always feel an improvement during their first appointment. CranialSacral Technique works directly at the base of the skull where the neck meets the skull - C1, C2, including the head and jaw. Myofascial release on the cervical spine improves mobility and releases painful trigger points.
Join a weekly Melt Method class or private session and I can teach you a hands on self care technique that you can repeat at home or in the office as and when convenient to you. Read here for more information about the Melt Method.
I have many different tools in my Sports Massage toolbox so book an appointment and lets see how we can improve the quality of your life by reducing your chronic pain and provide you the tools for self care.