neck pain massageThe incidence of neck pain is a close follow to back pain. Studies have shown that, statistically, 20-70% of adults will have neck pain that interferes with daily activities and is the reason that 1 in 5 massage appointments are booked.

Research has also found that massage can be a profound option for healing neck pain. This is because massage inherently helps the muscles and body with:

  • Decreased inflammation, which is highly associated with pain
  • increased “feel good” endorphins, which lowers the experience of pain
  • Decreased muscle tension
  • Increased circulation

Conditions treated by massage

In addition to misaligned posture, there are many underlying conditions that may also cause neck pain. Underlying conditions can include:

  • Osteoarthritis
  • Whiplash and other neck injuries
  • Disc disorders
  • Cervical Spondylosis
  • a pinched nerve
  • Teeth grinding/TMJD
  • Stress

Massage for neck and shoulder pain

It is almost impossible to address neck tension without also assessing the shoulders; as one can imagine the neck and shoulders are inextricably linked; the tension pattern of one deeply influences the other. For example, many of us 21st century folk using computers frequently can develop what’s called “upper cross syndrome” and “forward head posture”. The look of this posture includes rounded shoulders with the head in front of the rest of the body. This You Tube video goes into depth on these concepts.

While there are a lot of formal muscle and bone names mentioned in the video, its a great opportunity to self-educate if so inclined:

Furthermore, the following quotes help us grasp the hardship this misalignment creates for the body:

“For every inch of Forward Head Posture (FHP), the weight of the head on the spine increases by an additional 10 pounds.” – Kapandji, Physiology of Joints, Vol. 3.

“Over time poor posture results in pain, muscle aches, tension and headache and can lead to long-term complications such as arthritis. FHP may promote accelerated aging of joints resulting in degenerative joint disease (also known as arthritis). Posture impacts all bodily functions from breathing to hormonal production. Spinal pain, headache, mood, blood pressure, pulse and lung capacity are among the many conditions influenced by faulty posture”- per research presented at the 31st International Conference of the IEEE EMBS Minneapolis (2009)

There are many symptoms a person may feel as a result of the misalignment of the neck, some of which may be surprising. They can include:

  • chronic headaches
  • sinus pressure
  • troubled sleep/sleep apnea
  • pinched nerve
  • decreased lung capacity
  • gastrointestinal issues
  • impaired brain function

Sidenote: How can posture effect brain function?!

It is easy for us to underestimate the power of good posture until one understands this:

Per Dr. Roger Sperry, Nobel Prize; Brain Research, “90% of the brain’s energy and output is used in relating the physical body to gravity; 10% is used for thinking, metabolism, healing

FHP therefore steals brain energy from thinking, metabolism, and immune function so it can deal with abnormal gravity and posture relationships

Based on these statements, it follows that receiving massage is not a luxury, but rather an important part of healthcare for total well-being and proper function of the body.

Best massage for neck pain

At Sovereign Body Massage, we have found that a combination of myofascial release and deep tissue techniques are profoundly effective, with specific use of pin & stretch and positional release techniques.

As Joseph E. Muscolino, DC explains:

“The pin and stretch technique focuses the force of a stretch to a specific region of the muscle. The therapist uses their hand (or other body part such as an elbow or forearm) to manually place a “pin” into the belly of the muscle and then moves one of the muscle’s attachments away from that pinned point. The pin acts to stop the stretch force from spreading to the rest of the muscle beyond the pin point. Therefore, with the pin and stretch technique, the force of the stretch will be concentrated to the region of the muscle that is between the pinned point and the attachment that is moved.”

The other extremely effective technique utilized by Sovereign Body massage practitioners is positional release therapy. Timothy E. Speicher, Ph.D., A.T.C., C.S.C.S., P.R.T describes that

“Through positional release therapy, the body and its tissues are simply manipulated into a position to create an environment for the tissue to unwind itself in a nonpainful manner”

A common massage therapy treatment plan often includes assessment and attention to the following muscle regions:

  • Head, especially base of the back and jaw muscles
  • Shoulders- generally all the muscles that attach to what many refer to as the “shoulder blades”  (Scapulae)
  • Neck- depending on what your symptoms are, certain parts of the neck will be more indicated than others
  • Upper Back- frequently when we hunch our back, our shoulders and neck are forced forward which causes strain in all regions noted; our upper back tension can act as “bandaging” to compensate for the weight of our head off balance
  • Chest- when the neck and shoulders are forward, frequently our chest muscles are shortened, keeping us locked in this unhelpful posture

To keep massage safe for you

It is extremely important to be able to communicate the following to your massage therapist so she can create the safest treatment for you:

  • what your diagnosis is and what that entails
  • any limitations on movement or daily activity given to you by your doctor
  • what medications you may be on and any side effects there may be

Massage tips for neck pain

Massage will always only be part of your overall treatment plan because it enhances your capacity for change; however if this capacity is not reinforced in daily life, real change can be hindered. With this in mind, it is important to do self care. Self-care can include:

  • Thermal therapies such as heat and/or ice application
  • Taking Epsom salt baths
  • Daily stretching; looking to yoga and exercise professionals can be helpful for this. Massage therapists can really only suggest what muscle groups should be targeted
  • Weekly strengthening program of exercise, preferably designed by an exercise professional
  • At home therapeutic exercises as demonstrated in the following videos
  • Complimentary therapies such as Craniosacral therapy for neck pain

At-home therapeutic exercise examples:

The followings videos demonstrate how you can self- massage your neck with the use of tennis balls and an appropriate surface to lay on such as a yoga mat. As always, STOP if there is pain. Do not push or force anything. Make sure you are breathing and also make sure the exercise is safe for your particular situation before doing it.


This resource lists six ways one can avoid neck pain: