Neck pain is an exceedingly common problem, with around 10-15% of the general population experiencing it at any given time. From poor posture to injuries and medical conditions, there are many potential causes of neck soreness and stiffness. While treatments like pain medication or physical therapy can provide relief, many people find that getting a neck massage is an accessible and enjoyable way to address neck pain. But are neck massages actually an effective remedy? Research indicates that yes, massage therapy applied to the neck region can indeed significantly ease pain and reduce other symptoms related to various neck issues.
How Massage Helps
Massage works its healing magic in a few key ways. First, the mechanical pressure and movements, especially when done by a trained massage therapist, can loosen tight muscles that may be contributing to discomfort. The neck region tends to accumulate tension, knotting up muscles like the trapezius, levator scapulae, scalenes, and sternocleidomastoid. Kneading and working these stubborn knots helps muscles extend to their full relaxed length.
In addition to the mechanical effects, massage also seems to have beneficial physiological impacts. The stimulation of soft tissue prompts the release of endorphins, the body’s natural pain-relieving chemicals. Research also shows massage therapy decreases production of cortisol and norepinephrine, stress hormones that can influence pain perception. Studies also indicate that massage increases blood circulation in massaged areas. Enhanced blood flow assists the flow of oxygen and nutrients to strained muscles in need of healing.
Evidence Behind Neck Massage Benefits
These theorized mechanisms of massage have been examined in clinical contexts, with promising evidence affirming neck and shoulder massage as a viable treatment for certain types of neck pain. One of the most common causes of neck discomfort is muscle tightness resulting from poor or strained posture while working, often called non-specific neck pain. Studies have found that neck and shoulder massage is particularly well-suited for alleviating this variety of repetitive strain injury.
For example, office workers suffering from chronic posture-related neck pain were randomly assigned 15-minute daily massages or relaxation therapy for a week. The massage therapy group showed significantly greater improvements in pain on movement, pain at rest, and neck stiffness. Research has also demonstrated neck massage can increase neck mobility and range of motion in office employees enduring postural neck pain. Similarly, patients with muscle tension dysphonia, a throat condition aggravated by neck tension, gained vocal fold function after a regimen of neck massages.
Massage has also displayed therapeutic potential for neck pain related to whiplash injuries. Whiplash often produces strained neck muscles and ligaments alongside vertebrae misalignment. In a pilot study, a specialized massage method called Bowenwork therapy gave participants with chronic whiplash-associated neck pain both temporary and sustained improvement in symptoms for at least a week following each session.
For many common causes of neck pain – poor posture, muscle tension, whiplash injuries, etc. – hands-on neck massage techniques appear to effectively alleviate discomfort and dysfunction. More research needs to confirm massage efficacy for different specific medical conditions that generate neck pain, such as disc herniation. But results so far indicate neck massage as a worthwhile, non-invasive option whether used alone for temporary relief or alongside other treatments for resolving neck discomfort.
Massage Techniques and Delivery Methods
If you want to try massaging your own neck or experience professional massage therapy, there are options for techniques and settings. For self-massage, simply using your hands to rhythmically stroke, squeeze, and knead sore muscles can offer relief, especially if you position your head to target problem areas. Adding heat via a rice sock heated in the microwave or damp towel warmed in the dryer may maximize comfort.
Of course, working strained neck tissues is difficult to do completely on your own. Licensed massage therapists have comprehensive training and experience determining proper stroke direction, pressure, and duration while the comfort of professional tables optimizes positioning. Sports massage modalities that focus on individual muscle manipulations are especially well-suited for neck discomfort. Head and neck massage chairs are also now common, offering pre-programmed massage methods.
For long-term healing however, the consensus suggests regular massages from a qualified practitioner establishes the best outcomes. Physical therapists incorporating massage for example, or standalone neck massage specialists tend to deliver longer-lasting solutions. Unfortunately massage remains outside standard insurance coverage, so the costs of multiple sessions per month may be prohibitive for some. Thankfully an ancient self-care ritual that eases pain simply through human touch remains accessible according to one’s means.