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Neck Massage Techniques and Exercises to Relieve Pain

neck massage techniques

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.

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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.

Read More: Try an Electronic Neck Massager at Home

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 to 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 

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 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 an 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.

Read More: Best Massage Cushions You Could Try

How to Give Yourself a Neck Massage

best neck massagers

  • Begin the massage with a few neck stretches. Reach across to your head and pull it away from the shoulder. Only pull until you feel a slight stretch in your neck, not to the point where it hurts. Do the same on the other side.
  • Relax your neck and shoulders by performing compressions along the neck towards your shoulders and back up.
  • Starting from the topmost part of your neck, dig your fingers in softly and gently pull the muscles in the outward direction. The movement should radiate from the spine towards the front. Go down the neck performing the same action.
  • Rest your hand on the opposite side of the neck and begin a circular motion starting from the base of the skull to the upper blade of the shoulder. Pay attention to the areas that are stiffer than the other. Usually, the base of the neck is the stiffest. Hence concentrate a bit more on that.
  • Reach out to your neck from over your head. Squeeze and lift your muscles with each hand. Move from the shoulder area to the neck.
  • Press your fingers on the back of your head.
  • Find the problematic areas and pin them down while stretching the neck.
  • Finish off the massage with slow neck circles both clockwise and anti-clockwise.

A Few Tips for Neck Massage

how to give neck massage

  • Use a hot pack or towel on your neck for 3-5 minutes before beginning the massage. It helps with relaxing the muscles, which makes it easier for you (or the masseuse) to give you a massage.
  • Begin with light pressure at the beginning of the massage and get deeper as the tissues relax.
  • Make use of tennis or golf balls to massage hard to reach sections. Place one against the wall and lean into it to massage the muscles on your upper back.
  • Make use of essential oil for that extra relaxing experience.
  • Ensure that your fingernails are trimmed, because you might end up in pain otherwise.


  • Avoid massaging the soft indentation behind the ear since there’s a nerve pressure point.
  • Don’t apply the pressure too hard. Lighten the pressure if you feel the pulse.
  • Stay clear off the spine and massage the areas surrounding it. Do not press on the bones and only focus on the muscles.
  • If you suffer from cervical or any spine related issues, please consult your physician before receiving or giving yourself a massage.

Neck Exercises

neck exercises

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.

Neck Retraction

Move your head in an outwards direction for as far as you can go without feeling discomfort. Return to the neutral position.

Head Drop

Hold your head back, make sure it’s comfortable. Point your chin out towards the ceiling. Return to the neutral position.

Side Bend

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 the 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 the 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

fragrance oil vs essential oil

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 Montana

Arnica is more like an infused oil rather than 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.

Devil’s Claw

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 learned 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.