Should You Massage a Pinched Nerve in the Neck?

A pinched nerve in the neck, also called cervical radiculopathy, is a common condition that causes pain, numbness, or tingling in the neck, shoulder, arm or hand. A pinched nerve happens when too much pressure is applied to a nerve by surrounding tissues such as bones, cartilage, muscles or discs, often as a result of injury, poor posture or arthritis. While a pinched nerve can cause significant discomfort, you need to be cautious about massaging it. Here’s what you need to know about massaging a pinched nerve in the neck.

The Benefits of Massage

Gentle massage can help relieve muscle tightness, spasms and inflammation associated with a pinched nerve. By loosening tense muscles and increasing blood flow, massage therapy promotes healing to the soft tissues surrounding the compressed nerve. This can create more space in the area and take pressure off the nerve. Massage may also help reduce painful cervical nerve root compression symptoms like numbness, tingling and weakness in the arm or hand.

However, massage alone isn’t enough to fully resolve a pinched nerve which is being caused by structural issues like a herniated disc or bone spur. But when combined with other treatments like stretching, chiropractic adjustments or physical therapy, massage can support recovery from a pinched nerve.

Risks of Massaging a Pinched Nerve

While massage has benefits, direct pressure should not be applied to the site of a pinched nerve in the neck. Massaging the pinched nerve itself risks further irritating or damaging the sensitive nerves.

Applying too much pressure can also compress the nerve more and aggravate symptoms. Nerve symptoms like pain, numbness or tingling down the arm may temporarily worsen after an excessive massage.

It’s best to avoid massaging directly over the precise spot of the pinched nerve in the neck, especially if the nerve is being compressed due to a ruptured disc or bone spur. Instead, focus massage therapy on the surrounding muscles and soft tissues to provide pain relief until the nerve compression can be treated.

Safe Massage Techniques

Here are some tips for safely massaging a pinched nerve in the neck:

  • Use light pressure and gentle strokes. Avoid deep tissue massage directly on the affected nerve.
  • Focus on massaging the muscles and tissues around the pinched nerve, like the neck, shoulders, upper back and chest rather than directly on the painful spot.
  • Use your fingers and thumbs to apply gentle pressure in circles. Avoid using your elbows or knuckles.
  • Adjust the pressure based on feedback so you don’t exacerbate symptoms.
  • Avoid techniques that involve rapid shaking or quick motions which may aggravate the irritated nerve.
  • Apply heat first, such as a warm compress, to help muscles relax before massaging.
  • Keep the massage motions slow and methodical. Go in the direction of the muscle fibers.
  • Drink plenty of water after the massage to stay hydrated.