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How to Have a Pain-Free Neck and Upper Back

Pain in the neck and upper back is the most common issue I see as a massage therapist.  It can come from emotional stress, jobs and physical stress (repetitive stress injuries), or other injuries (falls, car accidents, sudden jarring motion). If you are a client of mine you have heard me say jokingly “The shoulders are not earrings.”

When we are stressed we can unconsciously elevate our shoulders causing tension and tightness in our upper back, neck, and shoulders. Held for too long it can create tender points (the hurt so good spots) and it can cause restricted movement that will mess with our range of motion.  Being able to look over shoulder becomes difficult to say the least.

Then there are the repetitive motions that cause tension and tightness.  Sitting at a computer all day or driving in a hunched over position will cause the chest(pec) muscles to feel restricted and can cause pain in the upper back.  My poor hair stylist or dental hygienist friends, who stand, twist and use the dominant arm for most of the work. Talk about feeling tight and restricted.

We all do something on a continuous basis that will make the neck and upper back feel grumpy.  So then the question becomes how do we make it happy tissue and not grumpy?

Massage. Regular massage can help treat and prevent future neck and upper back pain. Massage, like exercise and healthy diets, need to be frequent and consistent to see the best benefits.

Address the stress. Job pressures, family pressures, health issues and on and on. There are so many stresses that we deal with. Don’t ignore what is causing you stress, make changes to alleviate the stress or find ways to take care of yourself better if things cannot be changed at the moment.

Change your movement pattern. Sitting at a computer all day? Make sure it’s ergonomic and/or get a desk that you can stand or sit at.  Take frequent mini-breaks to change the pattern. Do what you do but find a way to do it differently.

Find something that you like to do and do it. Weight training, walking, Zumba, yoga, running…whatever gets you to move more. This is a great way to help with stress and change movement patterns.

Making the above changes can help you live with little to no pain. If you have been living with the pain for a while you first need to get in a pain free space to have the changes really help prevent future grumpy tissues.  This is where massage helps most. When you exercise or change your diet you do not see changes immediately. If it was immediate we would all look like Olympic athletes and supermodels. It takes time and commitment. Tissues do not go from painful and feeling tight to pain free and mobile in 1 visit. You will feel better for a day or 2 but those tissues have some old habits that they cling onto. Give them a few days and they will creep back to their grumpy ways.  If you treat the tissue and nervous system before they creep back to where they were you can see the changes hold longer and longer until you are pain free.

Here is an example of recommended treatment.  See your therapist 2 times a week for 2 weeks, then 1 time a week for 2 weeks, every other week for a month then bring yourself to a monthly massage. Your monthly sessions can address those issues that are trying to creep back along with providing a stress management benefit.

If you think of massage like you would for training for a couch to 5K or a diet lifestyle change you can see great benefits and results. Unless you have had an accident, it took time to get painful and tight. It will take a little time and effort to be pain-free.  Pain-free is a wonderful feeling.