For the past few weeks, I’ve felt a tightness in my neck, shoulders, and upper back. Some days it’s so painful I can barely turn my head, then other days it’s just a dull ache, but it’s always there. At first I thought I must have slept weird, and tried to ignore it, but as it kept hanging on I started to worry that there was something more significant going on. Taking pain killers only seems to be treating the symptoms. I think massage might help, but what’s the best way to massage my upper back and neck?
When you have back and neck pain, it can cause problems in other aspects of your life as well. You may find you have difficulty concentrating or being productive at work, and regular exercise goes out the window. Pain relievers do exactly as you suppose – they relieve the pain, which is only a symptom of the underlying problem.
The difficulty lies in figuring out what caused your back and neck pain in the first place, and it sounds like you’ve been going through a process of trial and error without any satisfying results. Frequently, stubborn aches and pains are caused by muscle knots – what a massage therapist might call “trigger points.”[i] By massaging these trigger points, a massage therapist can help release the tension, loosening the knot and promoting relaxation that eases your pain and tightness over time.
If you’re new to massage, you may want to start with Swedish techniques. A Swedish massage uses slower, more fluid movements to gently massage your muscles and promote relaxation. This massage can improve your circulation, which may help loosen up the muscle knots that are causing you to experience ongoing pain.
Your best bet may be to start with a one-hour Swedish massage and see if you notice any difference afterward. Keep tabs on your neck and back for two or three days, not just immediately after the massage. Massage has been clinically proven to help ease chronic back and neck pain, but you may need more than one massage on a regular basis to see real benefits. One study published by the Clinical Journal of Pain noted patients experienced a significant decrease in chronic neck pain after receiving a massage once a week for 10 weeks.[ii]
If you have several Swedish massages and want to go deeper, try a deep tissue massage to really get those kinks out. Deep tissue massage uses more intense pressure, but may do a better job of easing those stubborn knots that are to blame for your chronic pain. You also might consider a sports massage, which combines Swedish and deep tissue techniques. While initially designed for sports injury recovery, this type of massage also works well for people like you who are experiencing tension in muscles that may be stressed or overused.
References:If you want to work on your own neck in between visits, a certified massage therapist may be able to show you some techniques that you or a partner can use on your own body to help ease your pain. Ask your ther
[i] Pain Science: “Massage Therapy for Tension Headaches” https://www.painscience.com/articles/spot-01-suboccipitals.php
[ii] Clinical Journal of Pain: “Randomized trial of therapeutic massage for chronic neck pain” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19333174
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