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4 Self-Massage Techniques for the Neck

If you’ve ever had an onset of neck pain, you know how it feels: one minute you’re fine, and a moment later you start seeing stars and you can’t even move your head. It seems nothing can save you from this torture but a good massage, and you’d give the world to get one. If there’s no one near you to give you this relief, don’t get upset — you can do it yourself! And the best part of it is that you’ll only need your hands and a towel.

Here at Bright Side we’ve picked a few self-massage techniques for neck pain relief, and we hope you can find the one that helps you best. And don’t miss our bonus point with neck stretches that can boost the self-massage effect!

1. Towel massage

A towel massage can help you unlock the tight muscles of your neck and bring back mobility. At the same time, a towel is soft and won’t let you apply too much pressure on your neck and harm it.

A towel can also help your lower back which has an effect on your entire spine and your posture, along with your neck. You can simply put a rolled-up towel behind your back at your work office, on a road trip, or even in your living room on the couch — if you spend too much time sitting in one position.

Another advantage of a towel is that it can be hot/warm — if your towel is heated up then this may increase blood flow, having a positive effect on your neck and lower back. Usually, additional heat is good for these areas, but if your body is swelling then it’s advisable to use ice instead. When you put your towel on your neck and shoulders, it can ease your compressed muscles — thus making each shoulder feel less tense.

  • Put the towel behind your neck. Take the left end of the towel with your right hand and pull it down along your chest. Take the right end of the towel with your left hand and pull it up and to the left along your forehead so that your head turns to the left following the towel as shown in the picture above. Make several movements, turning your head to the left and releasing the pressure. Repeat on the other side. Make sure you’re not pulling the towel too forcefully and don’t make sharp movements. See this video for detailed instructions.
  • Put the towel behind your neck. Pull the towel forward with both of your hands, applying light pressure on your neck. Slowly turn your head to the left and hold this position for a few seconds. Slowly turn your head to the right and hold this position for a few seconds. Keep pulling the towel forward while you do the turns, as shown in this video. Make sure you’re not pulling the towel too forcefully and don’t make any sharp movements.

2. Back of the neck muscle massage

Massaging the back of your neck, and in general, your neck and shoulders, helps to soften your muscles tissues and increases blood flow. Neck pain can be relieved by using your own hands, especially since it’s not hard to reach your neck. Usually, in order to give yourself a massage, you need to use other muscles to ease up the muscles you’re massaging. Even though a professional massage sounds like a great idea right now, there are actually some benefits of being your own massage therapist!

First, you know and understand your own body the best, and you can easily choose which area you feel the most pain. Also, when talking about the long-term benefits, a professional massage doesn’t generally resolve the tension. Although it can help you for the next few days, it might not help in the long run. That’s why it might be better for you to learn on your own and treat yourself every now and then.

  • Put your left hand on the neck muscle that’s located behind your left ear, as shown in the picture above. With soft fingers apply some gentle pressure to the area. Slowly turn your head to the right while applying the pressure. Make sure your fingers don’t move, and that it’s just your head that is moving. Repeat on the other side. See this video for detailed instructions. Repeat the cycle several times until you feel relief.
  • With your fingers, massage the same area with gentle circular movements to increase blood flow and release tension. See this video for detailed instructions.

3. Side muscle squeezing

Sit with your back straight. Put your palms on the sides of your neck. Bring your head backward a bit and let it gently drop to the left. Squeeze the left back muscles of your neck so that they feel hard, but pleasant. Then let your head gently drop to the right. Now squeeze the right back muscles of your neck. Keep squeezing the right and left side muscles starting at the bottom of your neck and slowly moving upward. See this video for detailed instructions.

4. Suboccipital muscle massage

This can be a very pleasing massage you can give yourself to relieve pain, at the back of your skull. It might even be considered the best one because it runs the gamut from just making you feel good to a staggering therapy session for your headache. We can’t live without these muscles, so why not give them some love? They help your head maintain balance, thus contributing to your movements.

Everyone’s body is different, however, sometimes putting pressure on this area of your neck may stop the blood flow slightly to your brain, which is not something you want — even if it means easing your tight muscles.

Tight and locked suboccipital muscles can bring about headaches, dizziness, and even nausea. To release these muscles feel the soft area right under the bone of your cranium, as shown in the picture above. With both of your hands, apply gentle pressure on the suboccipital muscles on the right and the left sides of your neck. Lean your head back and keep applying pressure in and up with your fingers.

Slowly bring your chin to your chest and, as you lower your head, move your fingers outward, bringing the right and the left hands apart, and continue applying pressure. Your task is to separate and “open” the suboccipital muscles and reduce their tightness. Repeat the cycle a couple of times and make sure you don’t feel pain while doing this self-massage. See this video for detailed instructions.

Bonus: Forward and side stretches

Stand or sit with your back straight. Pull your chin down toward your chest, bending your head forward until you feel a gentle stretch at the back of your neck. Hold the position for a few seconds and lift your head back up. You can add a little bit of pressure and increase the stretch by gently pulling your head down with your hands, as shown in the picture above.

Stand or sit with your back straight and relax your shoulders. Gently lower your left ear to your left shoulder until you feel a pleasant stretch in the right side of your neck. Make sure your opposite shoulder is down. Hold the position for a few seconds and lift your head back up. Repeat on the other side.

You can add a little more pressure and feel more stretch if you grab your head with your hand and gently pull your head down to the side.

Make sure that you are not overstretching your neck since this may cause pain and discomfort.

Neck massages don’t just have to be done with your hands, they can also be done using movements. If your neck feels stiff and hurts when you move it, you might feel the need to do these kinds of stretches once, and then take a break. You can then do them again an hour later, or even the next day. Although you may feel like it’s not helping at the moment, as time passes, it will be much easier and more comfortable to stretch your neck and do these movements. Try holding the stretched-out position for about 10 seconds or doing more than one set, as a neck massage to decrease pain. This can also help your neck get more flexible and be able to function better.

However, there are some neck stretches you might want to consider avoiding — like neck circles, which are done by slowly moving your head in a circle. These might not be the best neck and shoulder massages. If you’ve ever done them in a yoga or gym class, you might be aware of neck circles. Research shows that moving your head this way puts stress on your spine — so neck circles might decrease blood flow to the brain.

Experts have some theories that say the tight muscles should be stretched before the weak ones, but it hasn’t been proven yet. Try to do both stretches whenever, as long as they don’t add to any kind of pain.

The techniques of self-massage and stretching we have just told you about have proven themselves to be effective in many people. However, if you don’t feel that self-massage and other remedies help you to ease the pain, or if the pain gets worse with time, it’s better to visit a doctor and ask for professional medical treatment.

Have you ever suffered from neck pain? What remedies helped you to get rid of it?

Please note: This article was updated in June 2022 to correct source material and factual inaccuracies.
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