Can massage help neck pain?
The misery of neck pain!
Can massage help with neck pain? Neck pain is quite literally a pain in the neck and can make life miserable. It can be a contributing factor to headaches, disrupt sleep and can have a negative impact on your mood and wellbeing. It can cause mobility issues, which over time can cause the neck and upper back muscles to become painful and stiff.
What causes neck pain?
Many things can contribute to neck pain. It can be due to injuries like whiplash or head trauma. You may have wear and tear in the joints of the neck. If you are at all concerned, you should always get checked out by your GP to make sure it is nothing serious.
A lot of neck pain is caused by stress, muscular tension, and poor posture. If your GP has told you that your symptoms are due to one of the above, then massage can be really effective to help you to get back to normal and say goodbye to that neck pain you’ve been living with for too long.
The anatomy of the neck
Muscles, ligaments and bones
There are many muscles, ligaments and bones in your neck. The section of your spine that makes up your neck is called the cervical spine and is made up of 7 vertebrae: C1 to C7.
The first two vertebrae are called C1 and C2 and are found directly under the head. These first two vertebrae have a different shape to the other cervical vertebrae, and allow for movements like nodding and rotating your head.
From C2 to C7, each of the vertebrae has fibrous discs in between them which, together with the ligaments and muscles, contribute to movement and support for your neck and head. The C7 vertebra is the one you can feel at the base of your neck with the hard boney lump.
All your cervical vertebra have boney processes called the spinous (back) and transverse (side) processes, which provide attachments for muscles. They also have flat surfaces that create synovial joints called apophyseal joints, also known as facet joints, that articulate on each other. These joints are prone to wear and tear as we age and can sometimes become restricted, contributing to pain and mobility issues.
Muscles of the neck
There are many muscles in the neck and shoulders that allow movement as well as support for the cervical spine and head. There are too many muscles in the neck to mention in this article but I want to mention some of the main ones that I find really respond well to structural massage.
Let’s start by looking at the upper trapezius muscle.
Upper trapezius muscle
The trapezius muscle has three parts, the lower medial and upper. In this article will focus on the upper trapezius muscle.
The upper trapezius muscles run along the tops of the shoulder and continue up into the back of your neck.
Take your right hand and place it on top of your left shoulder. This is your left upper trapezius muscle. Slide your hand up onto the back of your neck and follow the line of the upper trapezius muscle up into your neck.
It is great to receive massage on the upper trapezius muscles which often hold tension.
Often it becomes irritated after long periods of sitting at a computer with poor posture.
It can often hold trigger points and can become irritated leading to pain tension and sometimes contributing to tension headaches.
Splenius capitis and cervicis muscles
These two muscles are bandage-like muscles that are found on the back of the neck. Working together they extend your neck and head (tip it back). Working independently they bend your neck and head to each side and rotate your head and neck left and right.
levator scapula muscles
The levator scapula muscles can become irritated and troublesome. As its name suggests it elevates the scapula, more commonly known as the shoulder blade, as well as bending the head and neck to the side and rotating the head and neck.
When you lift your shoulders towards your ears the primary muscle you use is the levator scapula muscle. The levator scapula originates from the first, second, third and fourth cervical vertebra or C1, C2, C3, and C4 and inserts on the medial border and superior angle of the scapula. This is the spot where so many of us feel that nagging pain after hours of sitting looking at a computer screen, phone or Ipad.
Erector spinae muscles
The erector spinae muscles and they run up each side of the spine and feel like cables or ropes when they get tight.
They are not the deepest layer of muscles on the upper back and neck, they are an intermediate layer of muscles. They support the neck and head and allow you to extend your head and neck as well as rotating and tilting your neck and head.
After long periods of sitting badly with poor posture, they can become tired and get trigger points causing pain which eventually can lead to restricted movement and stiffness in your neck.
You have two sternocleidomastoid muscles which travel from the back of your head to your collar bone and sternum.
The sternocleidomastoid muscles are often missed out in a regular massage treatment but it is really effective to work on them for neck pain. It can also have trigger points which can be the cause of pain and tension headaches.
When the two sternocleidomastoid muscles work together they flex the neck: this happens when you look down. When the muscles work independently they tip the head to the same side and rotate the head to the opposite side.
The scalene muscles are three pairs of lateral neck muscles that connect the cervical spine to the upper ribcage. They assist in breathing but also help with neck movement and allow for neck flexion and side bending. They can become tight and can contribute to stiffness and mobility issues.
Although there are other muscles that can contribute to neck pain these are some of the go-to muscles that I treat to relieve neck pain in a structural massage treatment. Check out this fantastic animation showing some of these neck muscle.
Structural bodywork massage for neck pain.
As well as receiving structural massage to help with recovery from neck pain you can also try exercises to help improve poor posture and strengthen weak muscles.
Poor posture and neck pain
When we spend time in a poor posture, for example, sitting for long periods at your computer, using your phone or slumped on the sofa, some muscles can become long and weak and other muscles will become short and tight.
Short tight muscles
Short tight muscles are often on the front of the neck, shoulders and chest. They pull us into that head forward and rounded shoulder position we all know so well, causing the muscles on the upper back and neck to lengthen and weaken.
Locked long muscles
Locked long muscles often become weak leading to pain, irritation and trigger points. It is these muscles that we love to get some massage on when things become tense and uncomfortable.
Although massaging these long and weak muscles feels great and can really help to relieve the nagging horrible discomfort in the neck and upper back it is also important to address the short tight muscles, as these are the primary problem but often don’t cause us pain and so go unnoticed.
In structural bodywork massage, we always address the short and tight muscles to lengthen them and improve posture and alignment. Muscles like the Sternocleidomastoid in the neck and the pectoral muscles in the chest can round your shoulders and pull your head forward putting a strain on the neck.
Exercises for neck pain
To complement structural massage treatment we can do exercises that stretch these tight muscles and strengthen the weak muscles.
Stretches for neck pain
In this video are some nice stretches for the neck, beginning gently and progressing to slightly stronger stretches.
Exercises for strengthening your neck
This video shows some ways to help strengthen the neck muscles when you have limited mobility due to pain, and progresses to strengthening exercises that you can do once the acute pain has calmed down and moving your head and neck is more tolerable.
Can massage help with neck pain?
Honestly, it will depend on what is causing the problem, but in most cases, the answer is yes. Even if you have been diagnosed with osteoarthritis of the cervical vertebral joints, a skilled massage therapist can help to relieve the discomfort caused by the muscles becoming inflamed and irritated.
When to have treatment
As I have mentioned in my previous articles it is always good to get treatment sooner rather than leaving it too long. As a guide, if your pain has not reduced or gone away after a week or two, then it might be worth having some treatment. The longer you continue doing the activities that exacerbate the problem the more persistent the problem can become and the more treatment needed to sort it out.
If you feel that the pain is unusual or you notice anything that needs further attention and a proper diagnosis, then always see your doctor for a check-up to make sure it is nothing more serious.
Don’t suffer from neck pain book in for an assessment and treatment today and give those tiered and complaining muscles a bit of love and attention. Book your appointment now click here.