Massage Therapy for Neck Pain

Neck pain is one of the most common reasons patients seek medical treatment. In fact, the lifetime prevalence of a significant neck pain episode ranges from 40 to 70 percent. But you don't have to let your neck pain become a constant problem: regular massage treatments can help you manage pain, especially if you are suffering from neck pain long after a neck injury has occurred.

Neck pain often occurs with back pain, and the symptoms are similar. Symptoms of neck pain may include spasm, stiffness, muscle discomfort, limitation of movement and headaches. Neck pain can occur suddenly (acute) or be constant (chronic); an acute injury can lead to chronic pain and loss of range of motion, if left untreated. Massage is a noninvasive alternative to prescription medication commonly used for treating neck pain. Massage is a manual therapy that uses hands-on manipulation of the muscles and other soft tissues to relieve muscle tension and reduce stress. Although massage affects the whole body, it is especially therapeutic for the musculoskeletal, circulatory, lymphatic and nervous systems.

How Can Massage Help Neck Pain?

A combination of techniques, performed by an experienced massage therapist, will provide pain relief and help your recovery. Several types of massage that have been shown to provide neck pain relief including Swedish Massage, Deep Tissue Massage, Trigger Point Therapy, and Shiatsu.

Swedish Massage

Swedish massage is the term used to describe a variety of therapeutic massage techniques that help release tension with applied pressure to the surface muscles. This type of massage may be helpful in reducing emotional stress and tension that may add to your neck pain.

Deep Tissue Massage

Deep tissue massage may be performed with Swedish massage to release tension from the deeper muscles and connective tissues in the neck and upper back. With deep tissue massage, the applied pressure is harder, more intense, and focused on releasing adhesions (“knots”) or scar tissue that may be causing your neck pain.

Trigger Point Therapy

Trigger point therapy uses steady pressure to release neck muscle spasms and promote blood flow to the area to aid healing. Specific points or knots in muscles are located and released that often are the source of referred pain from the shoulder and back to your neck.


Shiatsu is a form of Japanese massage in which the practitioner uses his or her body weight to gradually press acupressure points. By palpating, or feeling, the network of vessels through which your energy flows (meridians), the Shiatsu practitioner will be able to feel and simultaneously adjust the flow of energy ("Ki") in your body.

Recovery From Neck Pain

The length of recovery from neck pain depends on the severity of your injury as well as your age, health, and history of prior neck injury. Several massage treatment sessions may be needed before you achieve relief. Your massage therapist can recommend the frequency of massage sessions to best treat your condition.

A massage therapist can teach you how to massage your own neck to reduce muscle stiffness and increase range of motion. The effects of massage tend to be longer-lasting when massage is performed multiple times each day. Do not perform deep muscle massage in areas that are painful, swollen or inflamed as this could lead to injury.

What Causes Neck Pain?

It is a common misconception that neck pain is related to abnormal cervical spine curvature. However, the most common causes of neck pain are sprain (injury to the ligaments of the spine) and strain (injury to the spinal muscles). Neck sprain may occur after a neck injury that causes forcible stretching or tearing of the soft tissues of the neck, such as a contact sports injury or whiplash from a motor vehicle accident. Neck strain may also occur as the result of postural or repetitive stress (overuse), often related to sleep position or poor standing and sitting posture. Ongoing pain related to neck sprains and strains occurs as a result of soft tissue inflammation and swelling.

Other causes of neck pain include pinched nerves or a variety of structural or degenerative spinal disorders such as a herniated disc and cervical spondylosis (osteoarthritis). Neck pain may also be associated with dental disorders or rotator cuff injuries (muscles of the shoulder).

If you have chronic neck pain, your doctor should perform a thorough medical examination to rule out serious structural or physiological spinal disorders. X-rays and MRIs can help your doctor identify the source of your pain and plan the best course of treatment. It is important to seek immediate medical attention if your neck pain is severe or if fever, dizziness, weakness or any unusual symptoms occur along with neck pain.

How to Prevent Neck Pain

The tips below can help you avoid neck pain and accelerate healing of your condition.

Maintain good posture.

Try to always maintain a natural aligned spinal position when sitting, standing and walking. Consider a lumbar support cushion for your car seat or desk chair. If your job requires repetitive tasks such as holding a telephone between your shoulder and ear, or if you are frequently in the same position while you work, such as sitting at the computer, take breaks and stretch your neck muscles. Also, make sure your neck is properly positioned during sleep: Avoid positions that abnormally flex your neck. Often, a worn pillow or mattress can lead to neck pain. Cervical pillows are available to provide proper neck support.

Exercise regularly and practice neck-strengthening exercises.

Regular exercise is helpful to improve posture. A physical therapist can recommend specific stretching and strengthening exercises to decrease your neck pain and prevent it from coming back. When performed correctly, yoga can be an excellent method to both stretch and strengthen your body.

Seek an experienced, certified massage therapist for treatment.

There are many types of massage that can help relieve neck pain, but it is important to seek treatment from a certified massage therapist who can assess your condition and recommend the massage techniques that are right for you.

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