A professional massage feels great for tense neck muscles, but sometimes you just have to take matters into your own hands. (Getty Images)
Modern life is literally a pain in the neck. As Yahoo Health recently reported, texting can put up to 60 pounds of pressure on your neck and spine because of the way it changes your posture. Add in stress-related muscle tension (uh, hello last-minute holiday shopping), and it’s no wonder that more than 16 percent of women and 10 percent of men in one study reported experiencing neck pain within the past month.
Los Angeles-based certified massage therapist Nadia Perez, who works with professional athletes in addition to professional office-dwellers, suggests these DIY techniques to ease everyday neck tension. All you need is a small, firm ball — such as a tennis, lacrosse, or therapy ball (We like the TP Massage Ball from Trigger Point Therapy) — and a few minutes of your time.
If it’s hard to turn your head to the side, like when you’re backing your car out of the driveway, this DIY rubdown will be your savior. It targets the muscle that connects your neck and upper back, the trapezius. You can also use this technique when your neck feels stiff after a bad night’s sleep, Perez recommends.
(Photo: Courtesy of Nadia Perez)
How to do it: Grab a yoga block in one hand and a tennis ball in the other. Stand facing a wall, about a foot away. Take a big step back with your left leg. Bend your right knee and keep your left leg straight. Hold the yoga block against the wall in front of your right shoulder, and pin the ball between the block and the crook of your neck (where your neck, upper back, and shoulder meet, as Perez demonstrates above). Press firmly into any knots and hold until the tension releases, Perez says. Repeat on your left side.
Tip: If you don’t have a yoga block, perform this exercise against a doorframe.
Upper back self-massage
Neck aches and upper back pain are often related to one another. One reason is because the trapezius is a large muscle, running from the edge of your shoulder to the base of the skull, down along your spine to the mid-back. Tightness in one spot can pull on other parts of the muscle, causing discomfort in any number of areas. So try this drill even if your upper back doesn’t hurt (and especially if it does).
How to do it: Stand with your rear to a wall. Put a tennis ball on your upper back between the top of your right shoulder blade and your spine, then lean back to pin the ball in place. Rotate your arm in a circular motion, allowing the internal movement of the muscle to initiate the massage.
Neck and chest stretch
When European researchers compared the posture of people who regularly complained of neck aches to those who were pain-free, they noticed one key feature: The first group tended to stick their necks out more. There were no other significant differences between the two groups, according to the Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation study.
“Most of us text on our phones, type on our computers, and drive our cars with a forward neck position,” Perez tells Yahoo Health. We even tend to sleep with our necks in a forward position due to the way standard pillows prop up the head, she adds. The result: Aches and stiffness at the base of the neck. Jutting out your chin also draws your shoulders forward, contributing to poor posture. Reverse the effects with this stretch.
(Photo: Courtesy of Nadia Perez)
How to do it: Stand with your hands clasped behind your back. Point your knuckles down toward the ground, feeling a pull in your chest and the front of your shoulders. Look up to the ceiling, as Perez demonstrates above, allowing gravity to gently pull your head backward. Be sure not to stick out your belly or butt; keep your spine in a neutral position. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds.
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