Background & Etiology

The spine is composed of three main sections: the cervical (neck) thoracic (middle back) and lumbar (low back). The cervical spine is the section of the spine responsible for turning the head and neck, in addition to providing stability and support for the structures connecting the brain with the rest of the central nervous system in the spine.

The muscular system of the spine is large and complex, each area of the spine has a group of muscles that serve to support, move and stabilize it. The spinal muscles work together with the ligaments to provide movement, stability, and postural support to spine. They can be categorized according to their function. The four basic categories are the flexors, extensors, lateral flexors and rotators. Irritation or injury of the structures of the spine may produce spasm and pain in the muscles of the cervical spine.

Cervical Muscle Spasm

A muscle spasm is a sudden and involuntary contraction, tightening, or shaking of a muscle. A spasm often occurs as a result of trauma, strain, overuse, weakness, or pain. In the cervical spine, a muscle spasm may or may not cause the head to turn or move without warning. A cervical muscle spasm that occurs close enough to the spinal cord or nerve roots can put pressure on important nerves. The nerves of the cervical spine provide sensation and motor control to the neck, shoulder, arm, and down to the hand

Cervical muscle spasms often occur in response to another condition, or as a result of pain, fatigue or overuse. Common causes of cervical muscle spasm include:

  • Muscle strain or fatigue
  • Increased physical exertion
  • Stress, and having tense muscles
  • In response to certain medications
  • As the result of a fracture in the cervical spine
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Conditions that degenerate or put pressure on the intervertebral discs
  • Trauma such as a motor vehicle accident.
  • Pain in the neck or back
  • Muscle weakness or strain
  • Stiffness in the neck
  • Pain or difficulty moving the shoulders or arms
  • Headache
  • Involuntary muscle movements
  • Numbness or tingling in the shoulders or arms

If an individual suspects they have had a cervical muscle spasm, the initial treatment should consist of avoiding the positions and activities that produce the pain. A course of conservative treatment is usually recommended that includes rest and immobilization, ice, physical therapy and non-steroidal medications to reduce inflammation. If symptoms persist, treatment by your physician may be necessary. This may include steroidal medication or injections, in conjunction with therapy. In severe cases surgical intervention may be needed to repair an underlying condition.

Mild

In mild cases rest, ice and medication may be enough to reduce the pain. Many patients will do well with this regiment. Physical therapy is recommended to develop a series of postural, stretching and strengthening exercises to prevent reoccurrence of the injury. Return to activity should be gradual to prevent a return of symptoms.

Moderate to Severe

If the problem persists, consulting with your health care provider should be the next step. Your physician will perform a thorough evaluation to determine the possible cause of your symptoms, the structures involved, the severity of the condition, and the best course of treatment.

Procedures that your physician may recommend and perform in addition to physical therapy may include:

  • REST and ICE
  • Splinting or bracing the affected area
  • The use of NSAIDS (Non Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs)
  • Steroidal injections to reduce inflammation
  • Pain medication to reduce the discomfort and allow the patient to perform the recommended exercises

Physical Therapists are professionals, educated and trained to administer interventions. As defined by The Guide to Physical Therapist Practice, interventions are the skilled and purposeful use of physical therapy methods and techniques to produce changes consistent with the diagnosis, prognosis and the patient or client’s goals.

Your physical therapist will perform a thorough evaluation to assess and determine the following:

  • Spinal Examination: where the patient is put through a series of movements and tests to determine the most probable cause of the condition.
  • Strength: resisted testing is performed to determine if there is associated weakness or strength imbalances.
  • Flexibility: tight muscles can contribute to poor mechanics and weakness creating imbalances and making one more susceptible to disc and back injuries.
  • Posture Analysis, ADL’s and technique: discuss and observe the activity that may have started the problem. An examination of the dynamic and static postures that may have caused or contributed to the back problem. A review of your current activities at home and work that may or may not be causing or prolonging your present condition.

Physical therapy for a cervical muscle spasm must remain conservative at the onset to avoid aggravating the condition. Your program design will be based on the structure and cause of your symptoms. A program not tailored to your problem could aggravate your symptoms.

Common Physical Therapy interventions in the treatment of cervical muscle spasm include:

  • Manual Therapeutic Technique (MTT): hands on care including soft tissue massage, stretching and joint mobilization by a physical therapist to improve alignment, mobility and range of motion of the neck and cervical spine. Use of mobilization techniques also helps to modulate pain.
  • Therapeutic Exercises (TE) including stretching and strengthening exercises to restore joint mobility, range of motion, and strengthen muscles of the back and neck support, stabilize and decrease the stresses place on the spinal joints, and discs.
  • Neuromuscular Re-education (NMR) to improve posture, restore stability, retrain the patient in proper sleeping, sitting and body mechanics to protect the injured spine.
  • Modalities including the use of ultrasound, electrical stimulation, ice, cold laser, traction and others to decrease pain and inflammation of spinal structures.
  • Home programs including strengthening, stretching and stabilization exercises and instructions to help the person perform daily tasks and advance to the next functional level.

Prognosis

Most people recover full function following a course of conservative care that includes physical therapy, medication and/or injections. It is important that once the pain and inflammation is reduced, and motion and strength are restored, the patient gradually returns to full activities. Instruction in daily activities or sport performance is helpful for reducing a reoccurrence of cervical muscle spasm.

Schedule an
Appointment!

Get back to doing what you love.

We are dedicated physical therapists that genuinely care. We strive to restore you to your former self, no matter the injury.

SCHEDULE APPOINTMENT

Real People, Real Testimonials.

“I had a tear of each shoulder and was in total pain and unable to sleep due to the discomfort. Twin Boro was able to assess my problem areas, work with me and encourage me. Now due to their expertise, knowledge and professionalism I am pain free.”

Maria

"Twin Boro Piscataway/South Plainfield is great! I was treated for occipital neuralgia and posture issues. Aside from performing wonderful treatment, everybody there is super friendly and accommodating (you will always be greeted with a smile) and also very focused and helpful! Bri is a knowledgable and experienced physical therapist who is not only a great PT, but also one of the friendliest people you will ever meet. Her pacing with my various exercises was perfect, as she pushed me, but not to any point that was uncomfortable for me. I enjoyed the variety of exercises and treatments, from heat and stim to exercises with weights and stretch bands. I thoroughly enjoyed going in 3 times a week to be treated by Bri. It is clear that she cares about and wants the best for her patients, with her passion and expertise for physical therapy! My posture has gotten much better and the headaches and pain I used to experience have completely disappeared after 3 months at Twin Boro. 5/5 I would recommend Twin Boro Piscataway/South Plainfield to anyone seeking physical therapy."

Stephanie M.

My experience with Twin Boro after my total knee replacement has been exceptional. They made all my appointments to fit into my schedule, explained all my exercises to me and made me feel very confident that I would be taken care of.”

Patricia

"The therapists and staff at the Twin Boro in North Brunswick truly place their patients first. My six month experience at this office was outstanding. Coming to Twinboro, I was unsure of my diagnosis, but with the help and dedication of my therapist Ivana, answers were found and exercises were set in place to treat my symptoms. Ivana made coming to therapy an enjoyable experience with her attention to detail, compassion, and sociability. It was evident through the environment Ivana created for that she listens to her patients and makes decisions with the best interest of the patient in mind. If you need to attend physical therapy and are in the area, Twin Boro in North Brunswick is the right choice!"

Sarah K.

View all Testimonials

We have 23 convenient locations

We love being close to our patients. Find out which of our premier facilities is nearest you!

VIew a list of all locations