March 21, 2021

Self Myofascial Release of the Neck

Written by: Zaakir Shakoor, MSc
Reviewed by: Mubashar Rehman, PHD

Mobility of the Neck

From my previous article, I have briefly discussed the benefits of self-myofascial release (SMR) (1, 2). If this is all new or your memory is blurred, I'd recommend revisiting it which is titled, 'what is self myofascial release'. For this page however, I will highlight how SMR can be administered correctly on the skeletal muscles of the neck.

The skeletal muscles of the neck are divided into flexors/rotators (sternocleidomastoid, anterior/medial scalenes, rectus capitis, suprahyoids, longus capitis) and extensors (longissimus cervicis, semispinalis, splenius cervicis, longissimus capitis, splenius capitis, suboccipitals) (3).

You don't really need to know the exact muscle parts but just understand that flexors/rotators are the muscle that help us bend the joints and limbs whereas extensors help in straightening them. The aim of utilizing SMR around the neck is to reduce tightness and pain, thereby improving mobility and enabling one to perform cervical flexion, lateral flexion, rotation, and extension (3)

Posterior Neck Muscles, via S Bhimji MD. CC BY 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons 

Self-Myofascial Release for the Neck Flexors and Rotators

 

Exercise #1

Tools Needed: Your Thumb

Step 1: Keep the hand in a neutral position.

Step 2: Flex at the elbow to bring it towards the front of the neck.

Step 3: Apply a small amount of pressure around the side and front of the neck to find a painful spot, which is recognized as a trigger point.

Step 4: Slowly push the thumb into it while using the fingers to support the neck for 30 seconds at a time.

Step 5: Stretch the targeted muscle for 30-40 seconds.

Note: The thumb is great for targeting specific areas of the neck and costs nothing. Do not apply pressure onto the center of the neck, which could cut off the oxygen supply. 

Exercise #2

Tools Needed: Massage Gun 

Step 1: Similarly, find a trigger point with your thumb.

Step 2: Apply the massage gun to the trigger point for 30-40 seconds.

Step 3: Stretch the targeted muscle for 30-40 seconds.

Note: The massage gun can be expensive to obtain but applies adequate positive pressure, which is especially useful if an individual is not physically able to create enough positive pressure. 

Exercise #3

Tools Needed: Muscle Roller Stick

Step 1. Hold one handle with an overhand grip and the other end with an underhand grip.

Step 2. If you are using an overhand grip with the left hand and underhand grip with the right, you would flex the elbows to bring the muscle roller to the right portion of the surrounding muscles around the front of the neck and vice versa. 

Step 3. Slowly roll the muscle roller from the highlighted origin to insertion for 60 seconds

Step 4. Stretch the targeted muscle for 30-40 seconds.

Note: The muscle roller is easy to use and covers a large area. Do not apply pressure onto the centre of the neck, which could cut of oxygen supply.

Exercise #4

Tools Needed: Foam Roller

Step 1: Place a foam roller on the ground. Make sure the surface is clean

Step 2: Lie prone perpendicular on top of the foam roller positioned on the sternum (top of the ribs). 

Step 3: Roll the foam roller up and down the around the side of the neck for 60 seconds by pushing off the feet and hands.

Note: The foam roller is a great tool as it covers a large area of the neck and the positive pressure is derived from the participants own weight. With the foam roller you have to be really careful not to apply pressure onto the center of the neck to prevent cutting off the oxygen supply. 

Exercise #5

Tools Needed: Your Knuckles

Step 1:Flex the elbow and the wrist in a neutral position.

Step 2:Move the knuckles of the index and middle finger up and down the neck muscles for 60 seconds. 

Note: It is a cost-effective method.


Self-Myofascial Release for the Neck Extensors

 

Exercise #1

Tools Needed: Massage Ball

Step 1: Apply a small amount of pressure around the back of the neck up to the bottom of the skull to find a painful spot, the trigger point.

Step 2: Place a massage ball onto a clean dry surface.

Step 3: Lie prone and position the ball in line with the identified trigger point.

Step 4: Apply pressure into the trigger point for 30 seconds.

Step 5: Stretch the targeted area for 30-40 seconds.

Note: The massage ball is dense and the positive pressure is derived from the participant's weight. Therefore, it's a great tool to drive deep into the facia. 

Exercise #2

Tools Needed: Muscle Roller Stick

Step 1: Grasp the muscle roller stick from the handles with a double overhand grip.

Step 2: Bring the muscle roller to the back of the neck, apply pressure, and roll around the area for 60 seconds.

Step 3: Stretch the targeted area for 30 seconds.

Note: Again, the muscle roller is great for covering lots of fascia. 

Exercise #3

Tools Needed: Your Index Finger

Step 1: Find a trigger point. 

Step 2: Apply pressure on the trigger point for 30 seconds at a time.

Step 3: Stretch the targeted area.

Note: The fingers are great for driving deep into muscles like the suboccipitals that are located at the bottom of the back of the skull. These muscles are otherwise tough to isolate.

Exercise #4 (Not Exactly An Exercise But the Easiest to Administer)



Tools Needed: Massage Chair

Step 1: Simply, sit on a massage chair and select the setting that targets the neck for a few minutes.

Step 2: Stretch the neck for 30 seconds.

Note: The massage chair can be very easy to use, but they are expensive.

 

Conclusion

I'd only recommend a total of 6-8 sets for the flexor/rotator and extensors attempting to drive deep into the myofascial tissue. Personally. I prefer using one set from each exercise. The idea is to apply pressure into painful areas or trigger points, therefore for the layperson I would not put a great deal of emphasis on knowing the exact origin and insertion point of each muscle, as long as you are working around the back, side, and front of the neck. Avoid cutting off air supply due to pressure on the blood vessel in the center of the neck. If you feel sharp pain, terminate the session to avoid injuries such as muscle strains. 

References

  1.  Beardsley, C., &.,Skarabot, J. Effects of self-myofascial release: A systematic review. Journal of bodywork and movement therapy. 2015; 19(4): 747-758
  2. Cheatham, S., Kolber, M.J., Chain, M., et al. THE EFFECTS OF SELF‐MYOFASCIAL RELEASE USING A FOAM ROLL OR ROLLER MASSAGER ON JOINT RANGE OF MOTION, MUSCLE RECOVERY, AND PERFORMANCE: A SYSTEMATIC REVIEW. International journal of sports physical therapy. 2015; 10(6): 827-838
  3. Kamibayashi, L.K., & Richmond, F.J.R. Morphometry of Human Neck Muscles. Morphometry of Human Neck Muscles. Spine. 1997; 23(12):1314-1323

Disclaimer: all of the information within this article is for educational purposes and is NOT intended as a personalized exercise prescription. No one can be held liable under the circumstances of damages, reparation, or monetary losses as a result of the information.

Article written by Zaakir Shakoor, MSc
Zack Shakoor Kayani was born and raised in the South East of England/London. Zack has attained a bolus of knowledge regarding biosciences through academia and his career experiences. In terms of his educational background, he has a Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology (Hons.), a Postgraduate diploma in sports nutrition with the International Olympic Committee, and a Master’s of Science in Nutritional Sciences. Zack has been fortunate enough to apply his Exercise Science and Nutrition Knowledge to aid Hundreds if not Thousands of Patients and Athletes, providing 1-1 consultation, Personal training, Information sheets, offering recommendations to collate nutrition and exercise programs, etc. Not to mention, in 2020, he authored a book called ‘Obesity Decoded’

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