Neck Massage Techniques for Pain & Stiffness

Young woman getting a neck massage
A woman is receiving a neck massage. (Image: Purestock/Purestock/Getty Images)

Neck pain and stiffness can make daily life difficult and even prevent your ability to work or function. Resolving neck pain may require long-term treatment and the joint efforts of many health care providers, including medical doctors, chiropractors and licensed massage therapists. Massage has long been used as a method of improving neck pain and stiffness, and many methods can be performed at home to supplement professional massage therapy.

Relaxing Therapeutic Touch

Stress aggravates the sympathetic nervous system, releasing stress hormones that increase heart rate and blood pressure and ready the muscles of the body for flight. The simple and light touch of another can help to relieve stress and tension that may lead to pain or stiffness. This approach is sometimes called therapeutic touch. Relax in a comfortable position and have a partner gently place her hands on your neck and upper back. Your partner can place her hands over the tense or painful area, or use motions like brushing, circling and tapping. Focus on the touch sensation and relaxing the area as completely as possible.

Actively Releasing Tension

Active release technique is a method of tissue release that involves moving the muscle from a shortened position to a lengthened position while a practitioner applies pressure. Developed by Dr. Michael Leahy, ART helps restore range of motion, relieve pain and break down scar tissue. Frequency of treatment varies depending on the type and severity of your condition, but most patients experience recovery within four to six sessions.

Experiencing a Professional Massage

Licensed massage therapists are versed in a variety of massage techniques. According to the American Massage Therapy Association, Swedish massage is the most common type of massage. Swedish massage is a light, relaxing massage that can help alleviate neck pain and stiffness. Deep tissue massage is another option that is appropriate for pain and injury. It involves more pressure and addresses deeper tissue.

Trying Self Release

Tender knots in your muscles are called trigger points and often cause discomfort, pain and stiffness. Use your fingers to massage the tender muscles in your neck and relieve trigger points. Tender points or knots will feel like stiff balls of flesh and require prolonged pressure, so hold the pressure for at least 30 seconds or until they release. Props like tennis and golf balls may also be helpful. Place a tennis ball against the wall and lean into it to release the muscles on the back of your shoulders, close to your neck.

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