Neck pain is a mystery—and unfortunately, there is not a ton of research out there to determine the true cause of it.
One of the general misconceptions for those who suffer from chronic or traumatic neck pain is the belief that the neck or vertebrates are out of alignment.
While there can certainly be something wrong with the neck joints, that rationale may be an oversimplification. Imagine a game of Jenga: It is not likely that there is a piece that is totally tilted or shifted, but rather the piece is tight or constricted.
It is also common for people to experience anxiety when it comes to neck pain, as the neck and spine area can seem vulnerable. Yet the truth is, most neck and spinal pain appears to not have a serious cause and likely will eventually sort itself out, especially with the help of massage therapy.
After 20 years as a practicing massage therapist, I am continually learning about this subject. I would like to thank Paul Ingraham for all of the writing he has done on this subject, for helping to dispel some of the myths floating around, and for providing much of the information I am sharing with you.
What Causes Neck Pain?
An estimated 50 percent of adults report having neck pain each year. People frequently come to massage businesses with the complaint of chronic neck pain.
A neck crick, a neck catch and spinal pain symptoms tend to blend together, so it can be extraordinarily difficult to parcel out if the cause is a slight spine malfunction, muscular or structural displacement, or mental anxiety that may be amplifying the pain.
Some of the most common causes of true neck pain include:
- Compression sprains
- Aggressive joint popping
Massage for Neck Pain: How it Helps
1. Massage around the client’s spine can be soothing as the muscles that surround the cervical spine may alleviate tension within the neck. Moreover, any amount of touch and relaxation massage for neck pain may be beneficial.
Much of neck pain is chronic, and those who suffer from it may experience constant anxiety and excessive sympathetic nervous system activity in response to the pain.
2. While there is certainly validity to the approach of massaging the neck area that is sore or distressed, there are also theories that suggest different areas of the body are connected to others, such as the lower back being connected to the feet, so overall attention to the spine in general is important.
Research shows the client’s emotional and physical health before experiencing a trauma like a car accident or sports injury has a lot do with how much pain they will experience afterwards.
3. This is part of the general belief in the power of prevention: massage for neck pain is not just for pain management, but for reducing the need for it before a trauma or accident even happens. At one time, this emphasis on pre-trauma health was assumptive but now is increasingly based on research and evidence.
Research shows “The greatest predictors of persistent neck pain following a motor vehicle collision relate to psychological distress and aspects of pre-collision health rather than to various attributes of the collision itself.”
4. Massage sessions scheduled at regular intervals will have the biggest benefit on neck pain.
While the cause of neck pain remains mostly a mystery, most neck pain is transient and tends to work itself out.
Below are some key takeaways that may help you and your clients better understand the true cause and prevention tactics for neck pain:
Do some homework. Forming a commitment toward education about the nature of pain itself, tension and ways pain can be alleviated will go a long way. People should feel empowered in learning more about their pain so they can manage it and eradicate it.
While there is so much we don’t know, what we do know through research is a lot of neck pain may eventually alleviate itself. With that knowledge, people should feel at ease and able to not exacerbate the pain through anxiety.
Preventive, ongoing massage is key. To repeat, research shows that pre-trauma health before someone experiences distress (like a car accident or sports injury) has a lot to do with the way their body may react after exposure to that traumatic event. Taking care of the body through preventive massage may help to minimize that impact.
About the Author
Eric Stephenson is an innovative educator, consultant and entrepreneur. As the Chief Wellness Officer for Elements Massage, Stephenson has contributed to the brand’s growth in becoming one of the largest providers of massage therapy in the United States. Stephenson is a founding partner of Well World Group, a co-founder of imassage, Inc., and a board member of the International Spa Association. In 2016, he joined a group of international educators bringing medical massage as a health profession career track to India. Stephenson has worked with some of the biggest names in the wellness industry, including Wynn/Encore Las Vegas, Kamalaya Thailand, Sandals Resorts and Spas, Grove Park Inn Asheville, Glen Ivy Hot Springs Spa and Starwood Hotels and Resorts.