Neck massagers are a helpful product to treat neck and upper back pain, but it is really important that you know when it is appropriate to use it for your neck pain - I have seen many damaged muscles and ligaments arise from the inappropriate use of neck massagers. Let me explain why and give you an example…
Massagers for neck pain
What to consider before you buy
If you are thinking of buying a massager for neck and shoulder pain, or a general back pain massager, then there are a couple of things you need to consider before you buy.
Muscles in your neck become tight and produce neck pain for a reason.
Commonly, neck pain is associated with tight muscles. This tightening is usually your body’s protective response to your initial neck pain, and aims to stop you from causing further damage by moving your neck excessively. If the source of the tightness and pain is not treated, then treating the tight and painful areas alone may do more harm than good.
I use the example of a punctured wheel on a bicycle. If the cause of the puncture is, for example, a sharp stone in the rim of the tyre and it is not removed, then repairing the puncture will not resolve the problem. A few miles of cycling later, and your tyre will be punctured all over again.
In this situation, using a neck massager to release the tightened muscle may have a negative effect. A physiotherapist will advise you if you are doing the right thing by using your neck massager. In most cases the professional will remove the cause of your neck pain using mobilisation and neck pain exercises. Subsequent to this - use of a neck massager might be advised, but in a very specific manner and only on specific muscles.
But remember, the right advice is important to reduce the risks of further damaging your neck as well as to facilitate your speedy recovery. Seek a physiotherapist’s advice before you start to use your neck massager at home.
Finally, the quality of your neck massager is also important. It must not be too strong or too weak. You must ask a medical professional or back pain specialist about the type of product suitable for your neck complaint.
Julia is a recent patient of mine who suffers with neck and upper back pain. This pain affects her intermittently and lasts for three to ten days.
One treatment device she regularly uses is a neck massager!
This is a vibrating massaging device that has various speeds and pressures on it. Julia gets frustrated with it sometimes as it can resolve her pain for her on occasions and at other times it makes her pain worse or has no affect at all. So, after self-managing her neck and back for years she eventually decided to come for a physiotherapy opinion.
The first question she asked me was why her massager was not effective all the time?
After assessment, I explained that the times it worked was because she had luckily hit the correct part of the affected muscle AND at the correct pressure.
The time it didn’t work? Because the pressure was too strong for the affected tissue or that she was on the incorrect spot!
After assessment I was happy that her pain was muscular and therefore it was appropriate to use the massager on the occasions of similar pain presentation. I showed her where to place it and what pressure to apply.
However, as removing the cause of Julia’s pain was my priority, I explained that without improving her posture her condition was likely to persist if not worsen.
She is now attending a weekly Pilates class to help improve and strengthen her posture to which she is responding well.
I expect Julia will not require ongoing use of her massager once her posture is stronger. Her posture was the underlying cause of her neck and upper back pain and once that has been corrected the cause will be gone!
Remember, massagers of good quality are of value in a trained hand, but I do not advise their use without a professional assessment and opinion of your problem first. So don’t do what Julia did! Seek an early opinion if your neck or back pain is persistent and a professionals advice on when and how to use your massager.
While the content and materials contained in the articles on this website have been written & researched by Sally Ann Quirke, a professional, practising & fully qualified Chartered Physiotherapist (Physical Therapist) based in Ireland, they are provided for general information and educational purposes only. They do not constitute medical advice on any particular individual situation. Please see your Chartered Physiotherapist or other medical practitioner for full and individual consultation.
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