How to Give a Neck Massage

How to Give a Neck Massage

Co-authored by Justyna Kareta 

people who sit at desks or drive for long periods of time often experience a lot of pain in their neck and shoulders. Giving them a neck massage is a great way to relieve that tension. Massages can also improve blood circulation, ease headache pain, improve someone's mood, and give an energy boost.[1] Giving a good neck massage is a wonderful gift, whether to a friend, loved one, or a professional massage client.

Things You Should Know

  • Start the massage with your fingertips to help warm up the person's neck muscles.
  • Give a well-rounded massage by focusing on the back and sides of the neck, as well as the shoulder blades, collarbones, and upper arms.
  • Use different parts of your hands to apply varying amounts of pressure during the massage.
  • Give a supine neck massage by having the other person lay face-up in a slightly inclined position.


Place your partner in a comfortable seated position.[2] What's important is that their back can be comfortably straight. You must also be able to access their shoulders and upper back.

  • Use a stool that gives you full access to their back.
  • If you use a chair, make sure the back of the chair is low enough to give you access to the back of their shoulders.
  • If you don't have an appropriate chair or stool available, place a comfortable cushion on the ground. Have your partner sit cross-legged on the ground while you kneel behind them.


Use light, long strokes.[3] When we think of massages, most of us immediately think of the Swedish massage. It uses long, gentle motions along the surface of the muscles instead of the intense pressure of a style like the deep tissue massage.

  • When you find tension knots, you can apply focused pressure.
  • For the most part, though, keep the pressure firm but not intense.


Warm the muscles up. Rushing into intense massaging before warming up the muscles can cause your partner to tense up even more under your touch. Ease into the massage by using your fingertips to loosen up and prepare the neck and shoulders. This will put them in the frame of mind to relax into the experience.

  • Place the ring, middle, and index fingertips of your hands where the base of your partner's head meets the neck. Apply light but firm pressure.
  • If that feels uncomfortable, use whichever fingertips feel right to you. You might use just index and middle fingers.
  • Slide your fingers down the sides of their neck, sweeping over onto the shoulders.
  • Make sure to apply even pressure throughout, running your fingers over the muscles.


Knead your thumbs into the tense muscles. In the previous step, you may have felt hard knots in the muscles. These knots indicate tension, and they need focused pressure from your thumbs.

  • Place your thumbs on the tension knot.
  • Place your other four fingers on each hand on the front of your partner's shoulder to stabilize your thumbs when you apply pressure.
  • Apply firm pressure with your thumbs in a kneading, circular motion to release the tension in the muscles.
  • Do this throughout the shoulder muscles, but especially on tension knots.


Glide your fingers up and down the neck. The muscles in the back and sides of the neck also carry a great deal of stress. You will use one hand to warm up the neck muscles for more focused attention.

  • Place your thumb on one side of the neck, and the tips of your other four fingers on the other side of the neck.
  • Apply and maintain firm but gentle pressure.
  • Glide your hand up and down the length of the neck.
  • Move along the width of the neck as well. Glide along the muscles along either side of the spinal column on the back of the neck. Widen your hand to loosen the muscles on the sides of the neck as well.


Pinch along the back of the neck.[4] You want to apply the same focused pressure along the sides of the neck with your thumb. But, you need your other four fingers to stabilize the pressure you're applying with your thumb. Working with both hands at once would force you to wrap your other fingers around the front of the throat. This would cause your partner pain and discomfort. Instead, work with one hand at a time.

  • Stand behind and slightly to their right.
  • Place the thumb of your left hand on the right side of their neck.
  • Wrap your other four fingers around to the left side of their neck to stabilize your thumb's pressure.
  • Just as you did on the shoulders, knead your thumb in circular motions up and down the length of the neck.
  • Focus attention on any tension knots you encounter.
  • When you've finished the right side of your partner's neck, move to stand behind and slightly to the left of them. Repeat the process with your right thumb on the left side of the neck.


Glide your hands down the sides of the neck. It can be difficult to massage the sides of the neck without bothering your partner's throat. To do this, you will glide your hand in a downward motion from the top of the neck to the front of the shoulder. Begin on the left side of their body.

  • Place your left hand on their left shoulder to stabilize them.
  • With the fingers on your right hand facing downward, place your thumb on the back of the neck and your remaining fingers on the side of it.
  • Applying pressure, glide your hand in a downward motion.
  • At the end of the motion, your thumb should be on the back of the shoulder and your other fingers should be on the front of the shoulder.
  • Knead your fingers into any tension points you feel.


Apply pressure to the outsides of the shoulder blades. Press your fingertips into the shoulder blades and apply firm pressure. Move your hands in a circular, kneading motion to release tension from the muscles in the upper back.


Use the heel of your palm between the shoulder blades. Because the spine is in the center of the back, it can be difficult to massage that area. Applying focused pressure to the spine will cause pain. Instead, use your palm to apply broad pressure.

  • Move so you're standing at your partner's side.
  • Place one hand on the front of their shoulder to stabilize them.
  • Place the heel of your palm between their shoulder blades.
  • Apply firm pressure in a long, deliberate stroke from one shoulder blade to the other.


Massage just under the collar bone. Although most of the massage focuses on the shoulders, neck, and upper back, a little attention to the upper chest can help relieve neck pain.

  • Standing at your partner's side, place on hand on their back to stabilize them.
  • Use your fingertips to rub firmly in circular motions just under their collar bone.
  • Make sure not to press on the bone itself, as this will cause pain.


Massage the upper arms. The arms may seem unrelated to the tension felt in the neck and shoulders, but they’re not. The muscles in the arms, shoulders, and neck all work closely in the movement of the arms. So, relieving tension in the upper arms will also benefit the neck.

  • Place your hands on their shoulders, applying gentle but firm pressure.
  • Maintaining that pressure, run your hands down from the shoulders to their upper arms, then back up. Repeat this a few times.
  • Rub up and down the upper arms, loosening those muscles.


Cycle through these motions in an un-patterned manner. If you focus too long on one area with one massaging motion, your partner will grow acclimated to the sensation. Move from muscle group to muscle group and vary your hands' motions to make the experience more pleasurable for them. The less they can predict the sensations, the better the massage will feel.

  • The muscles in the shoulders, neck, back, and arms are closely related. By paying attention to a wide area of muscles instead of the few muscles that may hurt, you are more likely to ease their muscle pain.


Use all parts of your hand. Many amateur massagers use their thumbs exclusively when giving massages. While the thumbs are excellent for focused pressure, you can cause pain and discomfort to yourself by over-using them. Instead, use all parts of your hand while giving a massage. Use your thumbs for focused pressure on tension knots.

  • Use your palms to apply light pressure over larger areas of skin and muscle.
  • Use your fingertips for firmer pressure.
  • Use your knuckles on particularly tight muscles.


Do not massage your partner's bones. Applying pressure to bones — the spine especially — can cause pain. Apply pressure only to muscles.


Continue for as long as necessary. A massage does not have to be long to be effective. A quick five-minute massage can make a world of difference. But, a long massage of half an hour to an hour will make them feel pampered and cared for.

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