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neck and shoulder pain

Self Massage To Relieve Neck And Shoulder Pain


It’s well known and researched that massage has many proven benefits. In this article I focus on self-massage techniques that can help you relieve tension and pain.

As little as 10 minutes self-massage can help you release muscle tension, speed muscle recovery and reduce pain and inflammation in the body. In fact researchers at McMaster University have discovered that massage “triggers biochemical sensors that can send inflammation-reducing signals to muscle cells”:

So here is what you can do:


What to do if you have tension in your forehead, your jaw or at the back of your head.

Find a comfortable position from sitting so your back is supported, straight. Ideally you want to have your knees slightly pointing down. (Some techniques are also possible form standing, with legs slightly apart and slightly soft knees too).

  • To release tension in your head you can start by ‘pinching’ your ‘third eye’ area. Pinch the area between your eyebrows pulling gently away from the face, hold the technique until it is comfortable for you. Repeat as many times as you feel is beneficial:
third eye self massage 1 Third eye self massage 2
  • If this, together with your forehead and temples are the areas where you feel tension you can also put one of your fingers next to the narrowest part or your nose, gently push in the soft part of you eyes until you reach ‘behind’ the bone and apply a positive pressure upwards. Repeat as many times as you feel is beneficial:
easing headache self massage easing headache self massage
  • The classic circular pressure with your fingers on the temples area can also be beneficial. I personally prefer tracing a line applying pressure with my fingers from above my ears towards my temples/ eyes.
  • Another incredibly effective technique to release tension in the neck and jaw, which can in turn release headaches is: crossing your arms in front of you, placing your hands just over your clavicles (collar bones). Now, with a nice hand-grip in this area and without moving your hands, gently lower your elbows until you feel the shoulder dropping and a positive pull along your neck. Now gently tilt your head backwards, relax your neck and jaw and hold the stretch until it is comfortable. Repeat as many times as is beneficial:
neck self stretch 1 neck self stretch 2 neck stretch 3 neck stretch 4 final
  • If you feel your headache is more at the back of your head or you have tension at the base of your skull/ neck area or simply feel discomfort there, try the following: lie on a comfortably rigid surface and use a spiky ball to apply pressure at the back of your head/ neck, while resting your head and focusing on your breathing. Don’t push against the ball, just use the weight of your head at rest. Deep, slow breaths with your diaphragm: belly rising as you breathe in and falling as you breathe out. If the pressure from the spiky ball gets too much, remove it and try again for as little or as long as feels beneficial. Relaxing the head is key to feel the pressure working effectively versus feeling it as a discomfort. You can also move your head over the ball to massage all over the occipital neck area:
spiky ball to release neck tension spiky ball to relese neck tension

TIP: Particularly when you are experiencing a headache, remember to drink plenty of still water (more then your usual). Dehydration can be a cause of headaches. Lack of sleep can also be a cause, so prioritise some rest if you need it. Anything else will be dealt with more effectively afterwards.

What to do if you feel pain inbetween your shoulder blades (scapulas)

  • Use a tightly rolled hand towel. Position it on a comfortably rigid place where you can lie with it in between your shoulder blades. You want your shoulders to be able to ‘fall low and backwards’, opening your chest. Let your arms fall along the sides of your body with palms facing up. You also want your neck slightly extended, resting backwards. Your chin towards the ceiling (or the sky if you are outdoors).
shoulder pain shoulder pain self massage shoulder pain self stretch shoulder pain sel stretch

I cannot tell you how important is to open the chest area for your neck and shoulder.

Sitting in front of a computer, holding a baby in your arms, driving, watching TV, reading and many more daily activities and postures are all responsible for holding your head/ neck in a static position for a ‘longer than normal’ period. Considering that the human body is made for movement.
The thing is that in that ‘static’ position the muscles are working very hard to hold the contraction. This puts pressure on the cervical joints and its muscles.
But not just that, all the activities listed above inevitably close the chest area, tightening the pectorals muscles and the scalene muscles which in turns pull forward on the shoulder blades!
This overextends some of the neck and upper back muscles, giving a sense of discomfort and, in my professional experience, often pain!

So, do yourself a favour: open your chest! Stretch the front of your body to relieve some tension from the back! It may sound contradictory but it isn’t. Remember muscles work in pairs and they complement each other, if one is tight its opposite is most probably over-stretched. This muscle imbalance is the cause of many aches and pains, as the muscles constantly ‘fight back’ to compensate and ‘find rest’.
(Of course also building your core muscles help to release the back from some work).

  • The scalene muscles! Wow!

If you have come to see me, I most probably have worked on your scalene muscles! And I know you experienced how effective those muscles are in releasing tension from your neck and shoulders 🙂

Yes, the first time it can feel quite tender and at points can give a dull ache during the massage, if the muscles are very tight (which they usually are). But this is soon replaced with a ‘positive pain’ that is all about melting the tension away! JOY!
In my massage therapy practice I experience more and more how powerful these muscles are.
So I am here to teach you an effective self-stretch.

Before, let me just briefly clarify which group of muscles the scalene are: a group of three muscles of your neck. They originate on the cervical and attach to first/ second rib. A wonderful mentor once taught me to easily recognise them by gritting my teeth and those muscles that pop out are the ones in question.

  • SCALENE SELF-STRETCH – soft tissue release (STR) technique
  1. First shorten the muscles by rotating and slightly flexing your head to the side you want to stretch: bring your chin to your shoulder.
  2. Now with the opposite hand, hold the muscles down your clavicle pushing down comfortably with your fingers.
  3. Holding the fingers on the spot, slowly rotate your head to the opposite side.
  4. To stretch even more, from this last position, carry on slowly moving your chin toward the ceiling while relaxing your jaw.
scalene STR scalene STR scalene STR

Happy healthy living!

Do feel free to get in touch if you want to book a professional massage 🙂
Eleonora Lawson
07735 980 620

Author Info

Eleonora Lawson

Embodiment coach, Sexological Bodyworker, Massage Therapist and Doula. "Specialising in psychosomatic conditions to ease tension, stress and internal duelling. Stepping into comfort, pleasure and joy and ultimately live a more fulfilling life." +447735980620