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Massage Therapy for Neck & Arm Pain

author image Ramona French
Ramona French owned a massage school and taught massage for 28 years. In that time she wrote textbooks on Swedish, acupressure, deep tissue and lymph drainage massage. She is the author of "Introduction to Lymph Drainage Massage" and "Milady's Guide to Lymph Drainage Massage." Her book, "The Complete Guide to Lymph Drainage Massage," published by Milady, was released in October 2011.
Massage Therapy for Neck & Arm Pain
A massage therapist working on a client's neck. Photo Credit Keith Brofsky/Photodisc/Getty Images

Neck and shoulder pain are common. Common factors causing neck and shoulder pain are whiplash injuries and overuse injuries; strained muscles become inflamed and tender. Muscle spasms are not only painful, but they also limit range of motion. For neck and shoulder pain that are muscular in origin, massage is a safe and effective treatment.


According to an article in the August 2008, "The Journal of Pain," the official journal of the American Pain Society, massage is capable of reducing muscle pain by 25% to 50%. A study from the Boulder School of Massage cited in the October 2002 "American Journal of Public Health" showed that massage can reduce the frequency and intensity of headaches due to chronic muscle tension in the neck. Authors of a report on the effectiveness of manual therapies reported in the journal, "Chiropractic & Osteopathy," agree that massage benefits neck pain.


The neck and shoulders are complicated anatomical structures. Massage therapists need a detailed knowledge of anatomy to avoid injuring sensitive structures such as nerves and arteries located in the neck and shoulders. Deep tissue massage in particular can cause damage if performed by inadequately trained or careless massage therapists. If you have severe pain, chronic pain that has never been examined by a physician, or have recently suffered an injury, schedule an exam by your physician before having a massage in order to rule out any condition that could be aggravated by massage.


Massage can reduce pain and increase range of motion in the neck and shoulders by lengthening and softening muscles that have spasms. Releasing spasms in the muscles can release pressure on nerves in the neck and shoulders. Balancing muscles in the front, back and sides of the neck can relieve uneven strains on the vertebrae, and the same is true for the shoulders. Balancing the muscles in the front and back of the shoulders, and the muscles over the shoulder joints and down into the arms, relieves pressure on both nerves and strain on the joints from uneven muscles.


Swedish massage uses moderate pressure, kneading and lengthwise strokes along the muscles. Deep tissue massage is more detailed; therapists use their fingers, thumbs and hands to stroke individual muscles layer by layer until they are all relaxed. Acupressure massage, whether Japanese shiatsu, Chinese tui na or Thai massage, use pressure on trigger points as well as stretches to release the neck and shoulders.

How to locate a qualified massage therapist

Ask your friends for referrals to their favorite massage therapists. Visit a local massage school and ask if you can make an appointment for a massage with one of the instructors. Massage schools often have student clinics where you can get a massage from a student under the supervision of an instructor. If there is no local massage school, ask a chiropractor for a referral. Often chiropractors have massage therapists working in their offices under their supervision.

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