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Self Treatment Techniques for the Head & Neck

Posted by [email protected] on April 21, 2014 at 1:15 AM

Below are some stretches and muscle release techniques for head, neck, & shoulder pain that I have personally used with good results. Feel free to share and try these techniques, but keep in mind that they might not work for you and are not a substitute for medical treatment. If you feel any sharp pain or your problem gets worse or fails to improve, stop the activity! For more details on my favorite way to stretch or loosen my own muscles, review my Self Treatment page.


Front Neck Muscles

Two main muscles in the front of the neck can limit turning and bending. Often, one side is tighter than the other, caused from turning your head more in one direction during sleep or having your computer monitor or TV to one side. These two muscles have been implicated in causing tension headaches. By pulling the head forward they increase the strain on muscles in the upper back and neck, which then have to work over-time to keep your head from falling off!


To loosen these muscles, grab the big ropy SCM (sternocleidomastoid) at its sorest point, pull, and gently bend and rotate your head until you feel some relief (30-60 seconds; see Right). Also work the scalenes on the front of the neck underneath the SCM, by pressing into them and doing the same head motions.


Avoid working on areas close to your windpipe or any area where you feel a pulse. You know you are on a "good" point when the pain or tension begins to lessen within 30 seconds (stop immediately if any pain or discomfort increases!).


The traps and levator muscles can also cause neck pain and limit rotation (see Shoulders).

Back of Neck Pain

Pain at the base of the skull is usually caused by either tight traps (holding tension by raising shoulders) or the muscles in the back of the neck having to fight a tug-of-war with tight muscles in the front of the neck.


One of the best neck stretches I've come across was recently referred to as the "Mick Jagger chicken-neck strut!" Keeping your head level, push your head forward and then retract and push the back of your head backwards (see Left). This can be done more easily laying on the floor; relax everything and then try to flatten the back of your neck towards the floor. Hold for a few seconds, relax, and repeat.


You can also get relief by massaging the muscles at the base of your skull (see Right). Push into the sorest spots, pushing slightly upwards directly into the skull (don't push into the gap between the skull and top vertebrae). Then rock your head sideways or forward/backwards to get the muscle to relax.


If you feel pain lower in your neck or feel a bony knot pushing out to one side, push gently first above and then below the vertebrae while slowly rocking your head side to side.


Be gentle working with your neck, and don't do anything that causes sharp pain! Less pressure and more time is most effective, and if you do not start feeling relief within a minute, STOP! The idea is to gently encourage the muscles to relax, and not try to beat them into submission!

Jaw & Head Relaxation

The masseter is the big, strong muscle that clenches the jaw. Massaging or pressing into it while opening and closing your mouth sometimes helps, but sometimes too much "work" can irritate the muscle more than relax it. A gentle easy way to relax this muscle is to press your fingers in above the ridge of your cheeks, and then slowly drag down the side of your face (see left.


The temporalis muscle originates at the temples and attaches to the jaw, also helping to clench the jaw. It can be less "reactive" and relax easier than the masseter, often encouraging the masseter itself to relax.


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