Massage and Neck Pain
Have you ever experienced a stiff neck or neck pain? At some point in our lives, each of us will very likely experience some type of neck pain. However, certain people may be predisposed to acute or chronic neck pain due to their occupation. Employees who perform repetitive tasks, sit for prolonged periods of time and use their upper extremities are at a greater risk of developing neck pain.
The neck is one of the most flexible—and delicate—parts of the body. Throughout the day, many of us put stress on our neck without even realizing it. Unfortunately, this can result in a literal “pain in the neck,” causing stiffness, pain and limited movement in the neck, shoulders and arms.
What causes neck pain?
Neck pain can be caused by a wide range of factors, including wear-and-tear, strains or sprains, or inflammation. A few of the most common culprits include:
- Bad posture. Bending or hunching forward for prolonged periods can cause strains (overstretched muscles), sprains (injuries to ligaments) or other problems. This can happen at work when sitting in front of the computer, during long drives, when reading in bed or even talking on the phone. Sleeping in an awkward position is another common cause.
- Injuries, trauma and motor vehicle accidents. This is a major cause of acute neck pain. Common injuries include falls, sports-related injuries, direct trauma and auto accidents.
- Medical conditions. Conditions such as arthritis can cause chronic pain and stiffness. Herniated disks in the neck can also cause pain, as can jaw injuries.
- Stress. Being stressed or anxious can cause tension in the muscles of your neck, shoulders and back.
Did you know the human head weighs approximately 10 lbs?
Neck pain is often experienced in individuals who portray a postural distortion known as “head-forward posture”.
Head-forward posture can be seen from a side view when an individual’s ears do not align with the shoulders.
It has been noted that for every inch forward the head moves, gravity adds approximately 10 lbs of pressure. This pressure can contribute to neck pain.
When we wear our shoulders high, range of motion becomes increasingly limited. The muscles at the base of the skull cinch down; this causes the muscles in the front of the neck to become even tighter. These tensions may cause neck pain as well as tension headaches.
Massage therapy can help to increase range of motion and reduce pain in the neck. According to a recent study conducted in Poland, the effectiveness of massage therapy for neck pain is comparable to rehabilitative physical therapy and kinesiotherapy. All three therapeutic techniques were equally effective in reducing pain and increasing range of motion in the neck.
Researchers are continuing to study the effectiveness and specific types of massage that specifically help with neck pain. Here are a few massage techniques that can be used to help decrease neck pain:
- Petrissage –kneading strokes to relax the tight muscles in the neck.
- Neuromuscular techniques – including trigger point therapy to deactivate the tight spots or adhesions that have formed in the muscle fibers and soft tissue.
- Myofascial work –including cervical traction and myofascial release to break up restrictions in the surrounding connective tissue.
What can you do?
Massage therapy is generally a safe and natural way to address neck pain. However, always consult your healthcare provider, especially in cases where inflammation or injury are present. Massage is never a replacement for medical treatment.
If you suffer from neck pain, here are some tips for self-care:
- Practice coupling your breath with movement in the neck. Try it right now! Nod your head as if you are saying “yes”, inhale and look up, exhale and look down. Now, try “No” Inhale and turn the head to the left, and exhale turn the head to the right. Repeat this activity anytime you feel stress or pain in the neck.
- Stretch, if tolerated. Stretching can help to increase your flexibility and range of motion.
- Schedule a regular massage to continue to improve mobility and help to reduce pain.
- Improve your quality of movement and quality of life with regular massage sessions. Just imagine how wonderful life could be without neck pain.
Ortop Traumatol Rehabil. 2012 Mar-Apr;14(2):115-24. doi: 10.5604/15093492.992301.