A knot in any muscle is a nuisance, but it’s especially frustrating when the offender is lodged in your neck or upper back. (Turning your head should not induce searing pain…) And while getting a massage can work out the kink, chances are you don’t have time on your way to work to swing by the spa.
Relax (well, figuratively speaking): You can actually knead away the cramp yourself with this quick routine, courtesy of Allyn Kakuk, DPT, a wellness physical therapist at the Mayo Clinic. Here’s how:
Step 1: Find the sore spot. If it’s on the right side of your neck or upper back, place your right hand on the area. If it’s on the left side, use your left hand.
Step 2: Push into the knot with your fingers, using firm pressure. Beware: This may smart. “But it should be a good hurt that you can tolerate, not a sharp pain,” says Kakuk. If you can’t quite reach it, a tennis ball or other prop can do the work for you—just lean against a wall for leverage.
Step 3: Turn your head slightly in the direction opposite the cramp, and bend it diagonally, as if you were trying to touch your armpit with your chin. Activating the cramped muscle, when partnered with pressure, can help relax the kink.
Step 4: Repeat steps 1 through 3 about 20 times in a row. Afterward, give your neck and upper back a nice, long, just-got-out-of-bed style stretch. Complete the series throughout the day to keep your muscle relaxed.
Once your neck is feeling better, prevent future neck pain with this easy exercise: