If you have ever slept in a wrong position or have been working on the computer all day, you might be familiar with the feeling of neck pain and stiffness. While it won’t probably cause any medical condition, it can definitely impede your day to day activities. I suffer from poor posture that takes a toll on my upper back and especially my neck. The stiffness and the pain have me constantly reaching out to my neck for some comfort and pain relief. Sometimes I’m unable to sleep because of the persistent pain! The most annoying part is the headaches that come with that. Fortunately, there are a few exercises and neck massage techniques to relieve pain and stiffness present in the neck. They work like a charm and provide almost instant relief.
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Take Care of the Setting
Use any soft surface such as a bed or a massage table. If it’s hard, give it a padding of towels. Ask the recipient to take their shirt off and lie on their stomach. While you can give a neck massage over the shirt as well, it’ll less complicated with the top off. That’s especially important for a massage with oil. Choose the setup depending on the circumstances, environment, and comfort levels.
How to Give a Neck Massage
Here are some of the steps you might want to follow when giving a neck massage.
STEP 1: Start with a Touch
Before starting an active massage, you can offer the recipient a therapeutic touch. All you need to do is gently place your hands on the neck and upper back. Sometimes, just a touch can release the tension that has led to stiffness. You can also tap, brush, or circle on these stiff or painful areas to release the tension.
STEP 2: Begin with Long Strokes
Once the person is completely relaxed, begin the massage with soothing long strokes on the upper back, shoulders, and neck. Gently push from the base of the neck down to the shoulders and back up to relax the tense area. Carry out this action multiple times either simultaneously or alternately.
STEP 3: Push Down the Shoulder Blades
Carefully, push down around the shoulder blades using your forearm. Allow it to slide unto the shoulders. Use oil as lubrication to make the movements soft and smooth. This will elevate the tension in levator scapula, which is the neck muscle that causes stiffness. Repeat it on the other side.
STEP 4: Knead
Close your fists and gently knead along the shoulders up the neck to the head. Continue going down the shoulders and the up the neck again. Rotate your forearm and fists to make it feel even better.
STEP 5: Gently Rotate Your Palms
Cup the base of the skull with your palm and gently rotate it towards your face. Note, you should be standing towards the head of the person receiving the massage. Use the other hand’s heel to massage the point where the neck meets the shoulders. Alternate between the hands.
STEP 6: Pull with Your Fingers
Hook your fingers at the base of the skull and lightly pull. Then hook your fingers where the neck meets the shoulders (on either side) and fan out while massaging with your fingertips in a circular motion.
STEP 7: Use Your Knuckles
With your left hand, form a loose fist and run the knuckles along the left side of the neck. You can do it with sweeping strokes or circular movements. Repeat this for about 5 times and then switch over to the other side.
STEP 8: Knead a Bit More
At the point where the neck meets the shoulders, perform kneading. Gently press using the heel of your hand and alternate between the two hands.
Read More: Full Guide on How to Give a Neck Massage
Neck Massage Techniques
Here are some of the massage techniques you might one to try. However, it's good to learn the exact steps to follow them before doing anything.
Relaxing Therapeutic Touch (can be done with a partner)
When our body is subjected to stress, it reacts in a ‘fight or flight’ manner. To engage in a flight response, stress hormones are released into the sympathetic nervous system. It increases the heart rate and the blood pressure to prepare the muscles for fleeing (source). Thus, it leads to stiffness, especially around the neck. It’s a well-known fact that a physical touch is capable of releasing the stress from your body.
Have the person receiving the massage relax in a supine position, then gently place your warm hands on their upper back and neck. Pay close attention in your manner of touch as it can help the person relax, thus relieving them from the pain and stiffness. Feel free to ask about the specific tender or painful areas where they experience more tension or pain. You can gently brush your fingertips over these areas to help with muscle tension.
Actively Releasing Tension (must be done by a practitioner)
This is one of the most famous techniques wherein a practitioner moves the affected tissue from a shortened position to a lengthened position by using pressure. Active Release Technique, also known as ART, was developed and patented by Dr P. Michael Leahy, a Chiropractic doctor. It aims at the removal of muscle adhesions or fibrosis that’s caused by the repeated use of a certain muscle. During the ART, the clinician applies deep tension at the affected area while the patient moves the injured muscle from a shortened to a lengthened position as instructed.
Swedish and Deep Tissue Massage
Licensed masseuse and massage therapists are well-learned and knowledgeable about the various techniques to deal with neck pain and stiffness. Swedish massage is the most common massage that tackles neck problems. It’s a light massage that relaxes the neck and upper back. If you have suffered from injury, you can even opt for a deep tissue massage. This is a more intense massage which reaches to the deep tissue with greater pressure.
Read More: Swedish vs Deep Tissue Massage
Myofascial Release or Myofascial Therapy (must be done by a specialist)
MFR, otherwise known as myofascial trigger point therapy, involves stretching the muscles to release the pain and stiffness. The pain and tightness is a result of myofascial pain syndrome (also known as chronic myofascial pain, CMP), wherein the person experiences intense pain in the form of knots at myofascial trigger points and fascial constrictions. The technique also comes handy in treating carpal tunnel syndrome and even migraines. The therapist or the chiropractor will first locate the trigger points on your upper back and neck, which might be the cause of the pain and stiffness. They will then begin massaging it and stretching the tight areas using light manual pressure. The process of releasing the pressure around the muscle and the supportive sheath continues until the therapist feels that the stiffness is completely released.
Self-Release (generally carried out by yourself)
You cannot always just go and have someone to massage you. Thus, it’s essential to get an idea on how to do it yourself. Here’s a quick neck massage technique that will provide almost immediate pain relief.
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How to Give Yourself a Neck Massage
A Few Tips for Neck Massage
Neck exercises can also tackle stiffness and pain. They are quick and can be done anywhere; you may even do these after or before a massage to relax your neck. This is especially great for those suffering from severe to mild anxiety. Anxiety causes muscles to tense up and thus you experience muscular pain and stiffness. That’s especially true around the neck region. If you do the following exercises 6 to 8 times a day, you will experience quite a relief from neck pain and stiffness.
Move your head in an outwards direction for as far as you can go without feeling discomfort. Return to neutral position.
Hold your head back, make sure it’s comfortable. Point your chin out towards the ceiling. Return to neutral position.
From over the top of your head, reach to your right ear with your left hand. Gently pull it towards your left shoulder. Repeat the same with your right hand.
Turn your head to your right and move it back until your nose passes the shoulder. Return to neutral position. Repeat on the left side.
Interlink your fingers to form a clasp behind your head. Gently guide it down towards the chest. Return to neutral position.
Shoulder Blade Pull
Raise your arms and then bend them at the elbows to form 900 angles. Begin with relaxing your shoulders. Bring your arms in a backward direction to squeeze the muscles between the shoulder blades. Pull back and then return to normal position.
Oils You Could Use
The following essential oils help with relieving pain and stiffness. Might be a good idea to incorporate them when trying all those different neck massage techniques and exercises.
Amongst the two variants of chamomile available, the Roman Chamomile oil is more appropriate for a neck massage. It has relaxing, sedative properties that can help de-stress and relieve the muscular tension from around the neck.
Rosemary is well-known for relieving rheumatic and arthritic issues. Hence, this essential oil can soothe down inflammation especially caused by humidity and temperature.
Lavender oil has sedative and spasmolytic properties. It’s effective in relieving neck pain and even headaches caused by migraines!
Arnica is more like an infused oil rather than an essential oil. Nonetheless, it contains anti-inflammatory properties that can effectively reduce pain. It’s highly recommended for those who suffer from neck injuries caused by a sports trauma.
This exotic essential oil originates from a perennial herbaceous that is a native of South Africa. It contains anti-inflammatory properties that can provide relief from arthritis, muscle inflammation, and joint pain.
You shouldn’t use these essential oils directly, mixed them with neutral oils like jojoba or almond oil. Massaging with them is very relaxing and more fun too.
I hope you now have an idea about neck massage techniques and exercises, how to use them and how to massage neck in general. This part of our body is so important, because at the end of the day it holds our head! I hope you’ve learnt a thing or two! Do let me know if you have any other techniques in mind, feel free to share them in the comment section.