How To Massage Shoulders And Neck In 5 Easy Steps

Spending the whole day glued to the computer screen can take its toll on your health. This holds true for both home-based professionals and office-based workers in the US who get too engrossed with their tasks that they forget to get out of their chairs.

The result? A painful neck and shoulders that can easily be managed by massage–only if you know how to do it right. This guide gives you the nitty-gritty of how to massage shoulder and neck the right way.

How To Massage Shoulders

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What causes shoulder pain and tension?

Aside from the back, the neck and shoulders also frequently suffer from muscle tension. It may arise from physical, mental or emotional stress.

Spending the entire day sitting without even stretching or switching positions decrease blood circulation to your shoulders. And because your shoulders are connected to your neck through a triangular muscle called trapezius, the muscle tension spreads like a ripple.

You may also strain your shoulders by lifting objects that are too heavy or by doing intense exercises too quickly.

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Poor posture is also to be blamed. The head, which weighs 11 to 14 pounds, is supported by the spine. As long as they’re aligned together, the spine can adequately support the head with the help of neck and shoulder muscles.

When the head is in wrong position, however, the muscles suddenly bear the burden, resulting into a strain injury. This can happen when you lean your head forward as you work in front of the computer, or when you hold the phone with one shoulder while doing something else.

When tired, the neck and shoulder muscles tend to grab and be glued to each other. Without massage, these “knots” will cause a lot of distress and even affect your range of motion.

Therefore, massage, or what Exhale Spa’s national massage trainer Wil Lewis describes as “spring cleaning for your muscles,” is highly recommended for those in high-stress work environments.


How does massage relieve the pain and tightness in neck and shoulders?

It does it in two ways: By improving circulation and increasing the body’s serotonin levels.

Muscle tension means there’s continuous muscle contraction. When there’s contraction, the muscle burns oxygen non-stop and produces enormous amounts of metabolic waste (i.e., lactic acid) that irritates the nerves.

It’s a vicious cycle: the contraction causes the blood vessels to the area to be constricted, and the decreased blood supply that results from it leads to even more contractions.

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Through massage, blood circulation is improved, therefore increasing oxygen and nutrient supply to the affected muscles and getting rid of the lactic acid. As a result, the muscles become relaxed and relieved from pain.

Massage is also known for increasing the serotonin, a chemical known to interfere with the transmission of pain signals to the brain. In other words, massage decreases pain as it works towards the healing and restoration of the shoulder muscles.

Best Way To Massage Shoulders

Important Reminders:

*Know the different contraindications for massage. If the person has a recent injury or an unexplained pain in the neck or shoulders, don’t proceed with the massage as it may only worsen the condition. Consult with a doctor or massage professional.

*Occasionally get the person’s feedback as you perform the massage. This is to ensure that you’re not applying too much pressure or causing discomfort. After all, the purpose of massage is to bring comfort and relaxation.

*Don’t massage over bony prominences. These areas are sensitive to pain, so applying pressure on them will cause discomfort. You can massage the areas surrounding them, but not directly above them.

*Without professional training, you’re most likely to injure yourself when massaging someone else. To prevent this, use proper body mechanics when delivering neck and shoulder massage. Keep your shoulders relaxed, avoid bending too much, use your body weight when applying pressure, relax your hands between each movement, and synchronize your body movement with your hand motion.

*Ideally, give massage every 2-4 weeks to maintain healthy tissues. For those with chronic pain, however, massages  are recommended 1-2 times per week.

*Lastly, this instructional guide is intended to teach beginners basic shoulder and neck massage. If your pain is caused by a more serious medical condition such as tendinitis, please see a doctor or a certified massage therapist with years of training and experience.

Also Read: Best Neck Massager Reviews


How To Massage Shoulders: A Step-By-Step Guide.

Step 1: Muscle lifting.

Spread massage oil over the upper back including neck and shoulders. Form your hands into “lobster claws” and alternately lift the muscles in a windshield wiper-like rhythm. Continue on the other side. Once you’re done with the second side, move around above the head and rub the trapezius muscle on both sides.


Step 2: Knuckling.

Without breaking contact with the skin, slowly tuck the fingers in to make fists with both hands. Starting from the outer shoulders, gently pull the knuckles in along top of trapezius muscle.

Once the knuckles reach the sides of neck, roll the wrists to bring the larger knuckles into contact with the skin as the knuckles of the fingers continue from the back of the neck to the base of the skull. Hold this position for a few seconds before moving down towards the neck.

Run your knuckles between the spinal column and the spinal blade.When you reach mid-back, move your knuckles back to the neck and roll the wrists again as your reach the base of the skull. Repeat 3 to 5 times.


Step 3: Thumb striping.

Apply pressure using your extended thumb and glide it from the mid-back to the trapezius muscle. Just as the first thumb begins sliding off the top of shoulder, slide the other thumb on the same side so as not to break the rhythm. Do this for 1 minute.

Perform the same thumb striping from the side of the neck down to the top of the shoulder. After 1 minute and without breaking the rhythm, continue down to the low shoulder and perform the same massage for another minute. Repeat on the other side.


Step 4: Shoulder rotations.

Support the shoulder from beneath using one hand. Extend the fingers of the other hand and then place them along the inner edge of the shoulder blade. Rotate the shoulder. You can also use the thumb to apply deeper pressure.

After the final rotation, apply a downward pressure on the shoulder using one hand as the other hand slides up to hold the base of skull. Do muscle lifts on the shoulder. Repeat on the other side.


Step 5: Finishing strokes.

Remain on the same side after finishing shoulder rotation. Extend one hand across the back with other one close to you. Pull the far hand towards you as the near hand moves away. Repeat this alternating massage until you cover the entire upper back and shoulders. Apply less pressure as you slowly lifts off your hands.


Watch full video here:


Rawlings, S. (2009). The 5-minute massage: simple rules and techniques. Cascade Massage Therapy. Retrieved 23 January 2017, from

Schreiber, K. (2014). Everything We Thought We Knew About Massage Is Wrong. Greatist. Retrieved 23 January 2017, from

Walker, M. & Walker, J. (2003). Healing Massage: A Simple Approach (1st ed.). Cengage Learning.