Tension in the shoulders and neck are classic symptoms of stress and poor posture. People with desk jobs experience tension in the spine that can affect their entire back, especially the neck and shoulders.
If you have a lot on your plate, a relaxing massage can work wonders to reduce feelings of stress, relax the muscles, and improve your general energy level and attitude. The best massage techniques focus on removing tension from common stress points, and working with the muscles to achieve the best results.
BetterMassageTherapy.com gives a simple step-by-step procedure for the most effective shoulder and neck work, by focusing on the muscle groups that hold the most tension. Tensions can be caused by labor, a sedentary work life, or general stress and anxiety.
Preparing for the massage
Most people do not own a massage table, so the best substitute is to lie on the floor. It is a firm surface that releases tension throughout the spine. Use a yoga mat or other small pad or blanket to ensure comfort for the person to be massaged. Have the person lie on his or her back with arms at sides. Place a rolled towel under the base of the neck to ensure support for the cervical spine.
Tend to the head and chest
Begin by cradling the head in your hands. Lift gently and swivel the head slowly from side to side, allowing a slight stretch before returning the head to center. (This tutorial offers further tips for massaging the head, and examples of the circular motions mentioned in this article.) Then knead the chest muscles just below the clavicle on either side. These muscles hold much of the tension experienced in the shoulders and neck.
Then focus on the neck
Spend time stretching the neck muscles by swiveling the head in either direction. First, turn the head to the right, gently, so the person does not experience any discomfort. Proceed to massage the neck muscles from just below the ear to the trapezius at the top of the back.
Use a combination of kneading and gentle palpations: circular motions work well to release the tension in these muscles. Repeat this on the left side, following the neck muscles down to the trapezius.
And move to the shoulders
While massaging the neck, proceed to the shoulder blades. Using circular motions, press your fingers into the shoulder blades along the clavicle, following the lines of the neck. Feel for any points of tension, or knots, and take your time massaging those areas until the area softens.
Ask the person to flip onto the stomach, and remove the rolled towel from under the neck. Keep the hands at the sides. Proceed to massage the shoulder blades with the palms of your hand, lifting the shoulder girdle slightly to release tension in the muscles underneath and along the tops of the shoulders.
At this point, feel free to run the hands down the spine, releasing tension down the back. Use a raking motion, and focus on the two divets on either side of the spine. These muscles often hold much of the tension in the back. Repeat up the spine using the same circular motions with the palms of the hands and the fingers. Press the fingers into the areas just to either side of the spine, moving up the back toward the shoulders.
Repeat this massage as necessary to remove tension from the neck and shoulders. To ease tension on a daily basis, take five minutes every hour or half hour, stretching the muscles in the back and neck, and using neck rolls and toe touches.
Be sure to stretch the lumbar spine, or lower back, by placing the hands at the small of the back and pushing the chest outward. These stretch breaks will help to reduce built-up tension in the areas of the upper back.