How to SAFELY Massage a Sore Neck

An older man with glasses is holding the back of his neck and grimacing his face

Having achy sore muscles in your neck isn’t a picnic, and you may be a little apprehensive about massaging there because it’s such a fragile body part. However, you can massage your neck in a safe and therapeutic way. I’ll teach you how to effectively massage your neck in a safe way right in the comfort of your own home.

In order to safely massage the muscles of the neck, avoid certain danger zones like the trachea, arteries, and nerves in the front or anterior part of the neck. Never put any pressure on the spine. Do not massage a neck that is injured, infected, or you have a muscular or circulatory disease.

Now that we know what to avoid when it comes to massaging the neck let’s learn the best ways to get started in treating the sore muscles of the neck.

Always Warm Up the Tissue First

The best way to start with a neck massage is to find a relaxing position, maybe upright with back support. Have a small amount of oil or lotion ready by your side. Feel the muscles of the neck and take note of how tense they feel. A tense muscle may feel a little hard like overcooked chicken.

Next, take a few deep and slow belly breaths and try to let out as much stress and tension as you can. Starting with one side of the neck, rub a small amount of oil or lotion on your upper trap. Start with glides moving towards the heart. Then do some kneading of the upper trap muscle. Do these for about 2 minutes.

After you’ve warmed up the upper trap muscle you can grip the muscle with your fist and hold for about 30 seconds.

Sarah Galeano holds her right upper trapezius in a pincer grip. Gold and black Galeano Massage logo.
Pincer grip your upper trap and hold for 30-60 seconds

Remember to keep breathing. After that, do some more kneading and glides toward the heart.

Repeat this process on the opposite upper trap.

Move to the Back of the Neck

Now you’re going to come to the base of the skull and locate muscles that are tucked under the base of the skull (occiput). Starting behind the ear, locate a round bony protrusion called the mastoid process. You will feel some tenderness of muscles when you gently press on it.

Sarah Galeano uses a static hold massage therapy technique on her right mastoid process. Gold and black Galeano Massage logo.
Use finger or thumb pressure to hold static friction on the mastoid process (just behind the ear)

Start doing small circular motions at the base of the skull starting at the mastoid process and travel towards the spine, stopping your movement before you reach the spine. You can repeat this 3-5 times.

If you find a tender spot when massaging the muscles at the base of the skull (occiput) then I invite you to use one or two fingers and put a small amount of pressure there and hold for 30 seconds. Do this for both sides of the muscles of the occiput.

Next, put a small amount of oil or lotion on either side of the back of the neck. Be gentle in this area as there are the traverse processes (protruding bones of the spine) that are located here and we do not want to cause any damage to them.

Gently do gliding strokes going from the base of the skull down to the end of the neck. Repeat this 5 times.

Now starting from the base of the skull do circular massaging motions down the side of the neck making sure to never hit the spine. Repeat this 3 times.

If you find tender spots when massaging either side of the back of the neck you can go back to them and use one or two fingers to hold that spot for 30 seconds each. Repeat this process for the other side of the neck as well.

Don’t Skip the Front of the Neck

You may have thought the neck massage was over but we can’t skip the muscles in the front of the neck. No, we’re not going to be going into the danger zone like where the trachea and arteries are located but we’re going to safely massage the scalene muscles and the SCM.

Put a small amount of oil or lotion on one side of the front of the neck starting just behind the ear and following the muscles down to the clavicle bone. Do gentle glides 5 times.

After the glides, you can start at the top just behind the ear and do gentle circular motions traveling down towards the clavicle. Repeat this 3 times.

Next, I want you to locate the SCM muscles (sternocleidomastoid). It’s the rope-like muscle that pops out of the front of the neck when you turn your head to the side.

The best way to treat this muscle is to bring your head into a neutral position and relax your head down, once you have located the muscle.

Now starting from the top of the SCM, pinch the muscle between your thumb and fingers and do light small kneading strokes moving all the way down the muscle until you reach the clavicle. DO NOT push down on this muscle.

Sarah Galeano holds her right SCM in a pincer grip. Gold and black Galeano Massage logo.
Pincer grip your rope-like SCM muscle

The energy of this technique is to locate the SCM, grip with your fingers, and pull out and away from the trachea. You can do this 3 times.

If you find a particularly tender spot, you can hang out there with your finger grip for 30 seconds. Repeat the SCM massage on the other side.

Finishing Touches

Now you can gently stretch the right side of the neck 5 times holding 2 seconds each time. Repeat on the left side of the neck. Your safe and effective neck massage is now concluded. Please take two deep breaths and drink a glass of water.

A word on pressure…the key to using a pressure that is safe for you is to be gentle. Never go in with strong pressure at the start. We don’t want to activate your sympathetic nervous system and cause more stress on the body and thus more pain and possibly injury.

You can always gradually increase the pressure if you feel like you need to. The same goes for stretches. DO NOT pull a muscle past its comfortable limits for any reason. This will only result in pain, swelling, and injury. A stretch should be gentle and only go to the point of resistance the brain has set for it for its own protection.

If you wish to have a longer neck massage you can always increase the recommended times and repetitions. I strongly recommend you do not massage your neck for any longer than 30 minutes. Remember to breathe throughout your massage.

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The content in this article is for informational, entertainment, and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of medical advice or treatment from a trained qualified physician. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither Galeano Massage nor the publisher of this content takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All viewers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, or supplements or those diagnosed with a medical illness should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement, or lifestyle program.


I've been practicing Massage Therapy since 2014. I'm a health and wellness enthusiast. I'm always learning and experimenting with different techniques, recipes, and healing modalities. I believe that we need to approach health and wellness from a WHOLE-listic point of view and understand that it will constantly be changing and is never stagnant. We are all unique and what works for one person will not necessarily work for another person. As I grow, change, and experiment I will share what I have learned as it may help someone else in need.

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