by Kassia Arbabi
As the name implies, tech neck is the result of spending too much time engaging with technology. Have you spent the latter part of your career hunched over a screen only to get off work and go hunch over another screen? Do feel an anxious twinge every time you hear a ping that sends you lunging for your phone to furiously reply to whatever has hit your inbox/social media/text messaging? Perhaps hours of binge-watching “Stranger Things,” or Buffy (again), has you glued to your device … We have myriad fun, and less fun, device diversions these days that have us craning forward to stare deeply into the back-lit blue light. And our necks hurt.
Your momma was right, you shouldn’t slump. Unfortunately today’s tech world often lures us into a hunchy bunchy bad-for-your-posture slouch that puts a lot of strain on our necks, upper backs, and shoulders (and really the rest of us, too). Add to that the fact that a lot of people tense their neck and shoulder muscles (shoulders down!) when under stress, and we’ve got a recipe for tech neck. Chronic pain in the neck, back, and shoulders.
More people come to our massage team seeking relief for tech neck than any other pain complaint. We literally see this every day, usually multiple times per day. Repeatedly jutting the head forward, rounding the shoulders, and holding the arms out in front of us, puts a lot of strain in the back; and most of us live perpetually in this forward posture. Desk, car, couch– even doing “active” things like household chores or eating can put us into this position.
A good massage therapist can methodically work through your neck and shoulder girdle to relieve pain from tense knotted muscles. By working though each muscle group thoroughly, we can find tender points and apply techniques to work out the soreness and relax the muscle tissue. We typically ask for more feedback than we would in a relaxation massage to ensure that you get better results– especially if you have long-term or more intense aches.
To fully eradicate pain from tech neck you will likely have to do some PT and make some lifestyle changes (and rule out underlying conditions with your medical team). However, massage can make an immediate difference in your pain and tension. For stubborn, long-term problems, a series of sessions will provide more benefit than a single session. Or, if you cannot take steps to change your patterns, a routine of on-going massage can help mitigate your pain until you get to a different place in your life.
With a case of tech neck, we recommend trying a targeted approach in which we focus solely on your neck, back, and shoulders for the duration of the massage so we have more time to spend working through your taxed muscles. Spending more time addressing these areas and layering down through your muscle tissue, can make a big difference in your results. Once we get this area feeling better, we can zoom out and address other contributing factors.
Massage is definitely worth a try to ease the pain in your neck. You get to disconnect from the wired world for an hour or so and reconnect with your body. And come out feeling less tense, less in pain, and maybe even a little taller.
In 2016 the Massage Therapy Foundation & American Massage Therapy Association jointly commissioned the Samueli Institute to perform and independent review of the current research on massage for pain management. After extensive review of the literature, the researchers confirmed the practical experience of massage therapists and clients. Massage Therapy relieves pain.
Now massage consumers can have even more confidence in their choice to use therapeutic massage for muscular pain and for chronic pain. As the number one reason people go to a primary care provider, pain is a major health concern. The medical community now has stronger reasoning for recommending massage as a means to manage pain to their patients. Although massage helps people in many other ways, it now has solid scientific backing as a safe and effective method of controlling pain.
This landmark study provides the massage industry with better credibility as a treatment option for pain management. It opens the door for more medical professionals to recommend massage to their patients. This has long-term potential to lead to more massage therapists working as a part of an integrated care team. Or, for the optimistic, even some increased opportunity for insurance to cover medically recommended massage. Some people also see massage as fitting in as an option for helping reduce opioid dependence by potentially leading to less reliance on medications for pain management. Furthermore, new massage research funding could follow this positive review.
Having research independently reviewed and verified by an unaffiliated scientific organization signifies quality and integrity in the work. The Samueli Institute applies a rigorous academic approach to research in, among other things, complementary therapies. They work with the US Military, the medical community, and private businesses who have an interest in complementary and integrative approaches to wellness. For this meta-analysis, they formed a team comprised of researchers, massage therapists with a background in research, and organizational leaders with a background in research.
In order to form their conclusions, the research team began with thousands of articles and then used a systematic process to find the most relevant research. They then condensed the findings from 67 research articles on the effects of massage on pain levels and analyzed the data collectively. The research covered multiple different styles of massage, so it speaks to the efficacy of massage in general. It looked at pain management in multiple categories including chronic pain, fibromyalgia, headache, and muscle pain. It also covered quality of life. The researchers additionally looked at the effect of massage on activity, but found that there were not enough quality studies to make a determination.
Overall, based on the effectiveness and safety of massage therapy, the study recommended the use of massage as a way to manage pain.
Read the full study in the journal Pain Medicine.
Throbbing, aching, pounding, stabbing, squeezing … we do not want these things done to our heads! Headaches and migraines can make us want to make the whole world disappear. For those of us who struggle with chronic or recurring headaches, well, it just plain sucks.
Many massage clients who suffer from tension/muscular headaches and migraines indicate that regular massage reduces the frequency and severity of their symptoms. Sometimes, it can also diminish the pain associated with an active headache. Massage is particularly good at helping if there is a stress or muscular component.
When working to alleviate headaches, massage therapists work through the muscles of the scalp, jaw, face, neck, shoulders, and upper back to find and relieve trigger points, taut bands, and tight areas. Your therapist may also blend in general relaxation work, aromatherapy, craniosacral therapy, heat or cold, or stretches to help get you back into shape.
Some common culprits leading to headaches include stress, TMJ, poor posture, trigger points in the neck and shoulders, sinus pressure, vascular issues, and nerve issues. Massage therapists learn techniques designed to work directly or indirectly on most of these underlying causes.
A medical study on massage for migraines seems to support the anecdotal evidence with positive preliminary results. Participants reported reduced frequency of migraine following massage (plus improved sleep). One preliminary study on massage for tension type headaches (TTH) found that Trigger Points “are important components in the treatment of TTH…” but that the placebo also led to people feeling better. Other studies (according to Myofascial Pain and Dysfunction: The Trigger Point Manual by Travell & Simons) have found similar conclusions and have further linked some migraines, and other types of headaches, to Trigger Points.
Not all headaches are created equal. The ones that, so far, seem to have the best chance at responding to massage include: tension headache, migraine, TMJ-related headache, and cervicogenic headache. In our experience working with people with each of these types of headaches, we have seen good results in lessening the frequency and severity of headache-related pain. Typically, a series or regular routine of massage has a better chance at helping people with chronic headaches.
We can work with you to see if massage or a massage program can work for you.
Living with fibromyalgia can be disheartening, depressing, and, while in the depths of the worst days, downright bleak. No one wants to lose the ability to conduct a normal, pain-free, easy-functioning life. To worry whether they will have enough energy each day to get dressed and go downstairs. To have to routinely say “no” to a lot of life’s little pleasures (and routines!). Although not an easy process, most people, with physician-guided trial and error, can find a set of management strategies that help them minimize the chronic widespread pain, fatigue, and other symptoms that go along this syndrome.
While not a magic bullet, to be sure, routine massage has emerged as one management tool that seems to really help people who suffer from fibromyalgia get back to fuller, more pain-free living. Partnered with the right diet, pharmaceutical, and exercise program- a well-tailored massage program can aid people in reclaiming some of what is lost to fibro. However, no two people are alike, so part of finding the right massage for fibromyalgia is creating a partnership with a massage therapist who understands fibro and working together to discover what works best for your body.
Generally speaking, myofascial techniques, stretching, and the feather-light lymph massage have gotten some good press for helping alleviate the tight muscle feeling and fatigue associated with fibro. Massage also appears to improve pain, depression, sleep disturbance, anxiety, and overall quality of life. One review, interestingly, found that the only style of massage (that has been studied, many haven’t) that appeared to have little clinical effect on fibromyalgia was the most common, Swedish. One study found that longer-term programs seemed to optimize the effects of massage. Unfortunately, the study of massage for fibromyalgia is still in its infancy. The gist of the data is that massage can help, but how or to what extent and in which exact applications is still unclear.
Since over-stimulation can cause flare-ups, people who receive massage for fibromyalgia often have to start “easy” and habituate to the work. If you have never had massage for fibromyalgia before, or had one that caused a flare-up, a 30 minute lighter pressure massage is a good place to start. Most find that they become less sensitized to massage over time and that the pressure and style of massage that works for them becomes slightly more aggressive. Some even ultimately do well with very deep pressure trigger point work. Keep in mind that sometimes you need to go back to a lighter pressure if you have a set back or if you begin reacting differently to deeper pressure work.
Some key things you may encounter during a massage for fibromyalgia include:
Make sure you have an in-depth intake conversation with your therapist discussing how you experience fibro and your goals. Let your therapist know if you have sensitivity to cold, skin reactions, fibro fog, insomnia, IBS, etc… Also discuss your general wellness, other health concerns, and past history with massage. Once you get into the session, expect to give some feedback so that the therapist can adjust to what you feel. Finally, pay attention to how your body responds to the work in the days following the session. Did you flare up? How much? What type(s) of relief did you notice? How long did the relief last? Give that feedback to the therapist who will use it to tailor your next session.
If you have received a diagnosis of fibromyalgia and have not yet tried massage as a complementary therapy, it is worth seeking out a qualified provider to try a few sessions. If you have tried once or twice and had a flare up, it may still be worth finding a therapist who has specific experience working successfully with people who have fibromyalgia– interest, training, and experience on the part of the therapist can make a big difference.
And remember, you can do it!
Nimbus Massage now offers massage for TMJ (TMD). Our program is designed to relieve the pain and stiffness associated with Temporomandibular Disorders (commonly referred to as TMJ by laypersons and TMD by medical professionals). The protocol, designed by a Massage Therapist who also worked for nearly two decades as a dental hygienist, addresses the muscles in the head, neck, and shoulders that contribute to TMJ (TMD).
Try the program to:
This joint in the jaw – in front of the ear where the jaw hinges – may develop a number of problems including arthritis, degeneration, trauma, postural problems, or repetitive stress. Any of these, or other, root causes may lead to muscular pain and tension in the immediate or surrounding muscles. People who grind their teeth, clench their jaw, sit with their head forward, or who have an uneven bite often develop symptoms of TMJ (TMD).
In addition to muscular pain in and around the jaw, people also commonly experience headaches; grinding, clicking, or popping in the jaw; the inability to fully open the mouth; tinnitus; dizziness; or sometimes pain and tension in the neck and shoulders.
Many people report that massage complements their medically-guided protocol to relieve pain and restore proper movement to the jaws. In fact, a recent research review concluded that conservative treatment, including massage, is an optimal treatment option for TMJ (TMD).
Your therapist will methodically work though the muscles (including inside the cheek) commonly involved in TMJ (TMD). Then she or he will apply soothing heat to relax the jaw, relieve tension, and get you back to pain-free living. Typically, this protocol requires between three and six one hour sessions with follow up visits as needed.
The Rabbit Hole-
Medical Research on Massage for TMJ (TMD)
2015 Systematic Review– Abstract. “In conclusion, there is widely varying evidence that MT improves pain, MMO and PPT in subjects with TMD signs and symptoms, depending on the technique. Further studies should consider using standardised evaluations and better study designs to strengthen clinical relevance. ”
2014 Randomized Controlled Trial– Abstract. “Massage therapy and the use of an occlusal splint had no significant influence on electromyographic activity of the masseter or anterior temporal muscles. However, the combination of therapies led to a reduction in the intensity of signs and symptoms among individuals with severe TMD and sleep bruxism.”
2012 Review Article– Abstract with free full text available. “Massage is an effective method in treating temporomandibular disorders. Due to the (sic) manual therapy significant improvement may be seen in the subjective and objective health status of the patient.”
2011 Case Study– Abstract with free full text available. “Results include an increase in maximal opening from 3.1 cm to 3.8 cm, an overall increase in neck range of motion, a decrease in muscle hypertonicity using the Wendy Nickel’s Scale, a decrease in pain from 7/10 to 3/10 on a numerical pain scale, and a decline in stress… more extensive studies are needed….”
by Kristina Page
Through 20 years of volleyball, a couple of car accidents, several high-stress jobs, and bad computer posture, I have developed chronic neck and shoulder pain. It started more than ten years ago and prompted me to use massage as a corrective measure. Over the years, I have gotten better and better at managing the chronic tension and pain that starts in my right shoulder and creeps up into my head and across my upper back. I would love to say that massage alone fixes it, but I find that, for me, a combination of approaches works best.
This is not a “Ten Quick Steps to a Pain Free Life” article. These things work together over time and, when I stop doing them, my problem area flares up again.
Of course, I receive massage. I have found my optimal timing to be every other week. I get a medium to firm pressure (but not too deep) targeted massage. If I want a full-body session, I go for 90 minutes because I find I need the therapist to spend a lot of time on my neck and shoulders. This helps me loosen up the tension in my muscles, reduce the pain I feel, and sets the groundwork for my other initiatives.
Staying on top of my exercise regimen, particularly stretching and weight-bearing exercise, makes a big difference. I aim for five hours of activity per week to keep my weight, stress, and pain in-check. When the balance gets disrupted and I get out of my exercise habit, my neck and shoulder tighten back up and the effects of my massages don’t last as long. Other little aches and pains will start creeping in, too. On a related note- I lost a bunch of weight a few years ago (50 pounds) and with it, I lost my knee, ankle, and hip pain.
If I have injured it (like after my last car accident), I have found acupuncture helpful. I also had to take a year off from sports in order to stop re-injuring it.
Minding my posture helps keep me feeling good. When I catch myself leaning in to my work too much or hunching over while walking, I straighten up and drop my shoulders. I have a few exercises and stretches I do to target the neck and shoulder girdle plus I work on my core as part of my regular exercise program. While I often find myself out of alignment, being mindful and frequently putting myself back into alignment helps.
Taking short stretch or walk breaks at work keeps me loose. Whenever I feel myself tightening up, I take a little break to move around. If I have had a particularly strenuous day, I will stretch at the end of it as if I had worked out.
I set my computer work station and massage table as best as I can to an optimal height.
Sleep is very important to me, and I make sure I get a full night’s sleep 99% of the time. At a certain point, I had to get a new pillow. I didn’t get a fancy one, but just getting new one (a side-sleeper pillow) helped. I also thought the mattress was too firm, so I added some egg foam to my side and that made an improvement. Until I got everything under control, I also hugged a pillow for support. At times when I have been injured, I have tried to sleep more on my back and less on my sides. Now that the area feels better, I have returned to sleeping normally.
For repetitive tasks like raking, sweeping, massaging, carrying stuff (even a purse), and driving, I try to switch back and forth between arms or use both arms fairly equally. On the purse topic, I do not carry a heavy purse far. If I am out and about, I take the bare minimum and leave the heavy stuff at home.
I have learned to respect my limits. I know just about how much I can push it, and sometimes I choose to go beyond, but I know I’ll pay the price. Of course, I also know how to reel it back in.
Keeping my stress level down helps as well. In addition to what I do above, I practice mindfulness and meditation (though not as often or as well as I should). I have also had to learn to change my mindset about certain things that act as stressors for me. Other stress busters include: getting out into nature as much as possible, saying “no” when I need to, taking time off, and nurturing positive relationships. Since life will always have some level of stress in it, I have to work the most at this one.
When I do get flare-ups, I do a combination of massage, self-massage, moist heat, breathing exercises, stretching, and strengthening to get everything to settle back down. Then I look at what has gotten out of balance and work to correct it. I hope that by sharing what works for me, you get inspiration to seek out what works for you!
Targeted = Focused on your specific problem areas.
Therapeutic = Having a therapeutic goal.
Massage = Working with your muscles. (What we do!)
Finding a way to succinctly describe what we do in a way that people will understand posed a unique challenge for us. What sets us apart? How do we describe what we do without using boring industry terms? How do we stay away from the misnomers of Swedish and Deep Tissue Massage? Targeted Therapeutic Massage seemed to fit the bill.
We use a through intake process to learn our client’s goals for the session, factors that contribute to their condition, and what has or hasn’t worked for them in the past. We then use this information to tailor our work each time someone comes in. In this way each session geared towards each client’s Therapeutic goals.
Our therapists all have years of experience that include actively learning new skills and staying up-to-date in the field. We know a number of different styles of massage and can blend them during each session in order to achieve the best results possible. If someone feels high levels of stress and anxiety then we use calming techniques to help relieve those feelings. If someone has chronic pain then we use pain-relieving techniques to help them manage their symptoms. If someone has a recent injury we use structural techniques to focus on helping them heal that area. We use our skills to Target each person’s problem areas.
We put all of this together to specialize in target sessions. In a Targeted Massage session, we focus solely on a particular problem area and its corresponding structures for an entire massage. Our clients get relief from stubborn problem areas, manage chronic pain, and improve function after trauma.