How to Use a Massage Gun to Relieve Neck Pain

Learn more about how massage guns can help provide relief from neck pain and how to use them safely.

Published Date: Apr 1, 2024
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One of the most commonly asked questions about massage guns: Are they safe to use on the neck? While you don’t want to use a massage gun directly on the front or sides of the neck or over the bones of the cervical spine, you can still use it to relieve neck pain by focusing on supporting neck muscles, including the traps, rhomboids, and levator scapula. “Neck pain is often impacted by surrounding muscles,” says Jillian Aeder, PT, DPT, a physical therapist at Hinge Health. “To avoid injuring the delicate muscles, bones, and arteries in the neck, I recommend using a massage gun on the nearby muscles that are often tight when you have neck pain.” 

Massage guns can help improve your neck’s mobility and flexibility by stimulating these nearby muscles, which, in turn, can improve circulation, relieve tension, and increase range of motion. Sore neck muscles can have a ripple effect on your entire body, causing headaches and upper back pain, so it can be helpful to work out the knots with a massage gun and then follow up with upper body and neck exercises to strengthen and stretch the entire area. 

Read on to learn more about massage guns, their benefits, and how to use them to relieve neck pain, according to Hinge Health physical therapists. 

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Our Hinge Health Experts

Jillian Aeder, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist
Dr. Aeder is a Hinge Health physical therapist and a board-certified athletic trainer.
Dylan Peterson, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist and Clinical Reviewer
Dr. Peterson is a Hinge Health physical therapist who focuses on developing clinical exercise therapy programs and member education.

What Is a Massage Gun?

A massage gun is a handheld device that uses percussive therapy, which relies on repetitive pressure and vibrations, to boost circulation, stimulate muscles, relieve tension, and improve range of motion. Massage guns can be used all over the body to target specific areas of muscle pain, including pain in the back, legs, and neck. (Remember: You don’t want to use the gun directly on your neck, but rather on surrounding muscles.)

Massage guns can offer on-the-spot relief, similar to what you might expect during a regular massage, but the key difference is that a massage gun offers rapid, repeated pressure that a massage therapist usually can’t mimic.

Massage guns often come with a range of different attachments, or heads, to help treat different parts of the body. For the most part, Dr. Aeder recommends using smaller heads to address neck pain given that the muscles that surround the neck are usually smaller. You may opt for a bigger head if you’re targeting larger muscle groups, like the traps.

A massage gun can be used whenever you need relief, but people often use them before or after exercise. “Before a workout, stimulating a muscle with a massage gun can help activate your muscles and improve performance during exercise,” says Dr. Aeder. “After exercise, a massage gun can help relieve muscle tension and boost circulation.” For chronic neck pain, it might be useful to use a massage gun after a long day of sitting at a desk where you may be more pitched forward, which places extra stress on the neck.

Massage Gun Benefits for Neck Pain

Whether you tweaked your neck working out, slept wrong, or have neck tension caused by stress, a massage gun can help ease tight neck muscles in the following ways:

  • Reduced neck pain and muscle tension. Massage guns can ease muscle tension in the neck by gently working out kinks or tight spots in surrounding muscles that may be contributing to tightness, pain, or spasms in the neck. 

  • Better circulation. The pressure and vibrations of a massage gun can bring blood flow and healing nutrients to the neck region. 

  • More muscle stimulation. When you stimulate muscles before activity with a massage gun, you’re basically giving them a little warm-up. This brings more oxygen to the muscle groups you’re preparing to work, which allows them to contract and relax more easily. 

  • Increased range of motion. Stiff, tight muscles can limit your range of motion. Massage guns can help relieve some of this tension, which can help muscles move more easily through their full range of motion. Think about what happens when your neck muscles are stiff, for instance. You may notice less flexibility, and your ability to swivel your head side to side or up and down may feel limited. Using a massage gun to relax the muscles near the neck can help improve its range of motion.

  • Stronger muscles. A report in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy that reviewed the results of 13 studies on massage guns found that using a massage gun can help improve muscle strength.

How to Use a Massage Gun for Neck Pain Relief

Before using a massage gun to manage your neck pain, there are some things to keep in mind to make sure you’re doing so safely, says Dr. Aeder. A few things to consider:

Don’t use the massage gun directly on the neck. Avoid massaging directly on the front or sides of the neck or over the bones of the cervical spine, says Dr. Aeder. Instead, focus on massaging nearby muscles that often contribute to neck pain and tension. 

Watch the clock. Dr. Aeder recommends using a massage gun for no more than 10 to 20 seconds in one specific area and up to two minutes or so to work across an entire muscle. “You can move the massage gun around a muscle until you hit all the spots, but I wouldn’t keep it in the exact same spot for more than 20 seconds,” says Dr. Aeder. “Total time will vary depending on the muscle’s size, so you may need to do it closer to two minutes on large muscle groups, like your traps.”

Massage only on muscle. When massaging around your neck, avoid rolling the massage gun over any bones, mainly your cervical spine (which is the upper most part of the spine that’s located in the neck). Because there are so many bones, nerves, and arteries in the neck, Dr. Aeder says you should avoid the sides of your neck and the front of your neck too. If you’re not sure what areas to target, work with a physical therapist to get guidance on using a massage gun properly. You can see a physical therapist in person or use a program like Hinge Health to access a PT via telehealth/video visit.

Use a lower setting and a smaller head. While you’ll need to test out different speeds and different attachments to see which one is best for you, Dr. Aeder says most people will do well with lighter pressure and a smaller head if they’re massaging the region near their neck. “This gives you more control over the area you’re treating,” she explains.

Listen to your body. The level of pressure and the type of massage head you use can vary day to day, depending on how you feel. “With certain muscles that are larger, you may tolerate higher levels on the massage gun or a little more pressure,” points out Dr. Aeder. “But if, on another day, you’re experiencing more soreness in an area, you may not be able to tolerate as much pressure or you may need to use a lower setting. Adapt to what your body needs in the moment.” 

Keep moving. Movement is medicine for any type of musculoskeletal pain, and neck soreness is no exception. Staying active is one of the best things you can do to relieve neck pain and limit further stiffness and tightness. If you find yourself limiting activity due to neck pain, a massage gun may provide in-the-moment relief you need to get moving again. “A massage gun is great to use in addition to exercise and movement, but shouldn’t be used in place of it,” says Dr. Aeder. “A massage gun can help stimulate muscles and improve mobility so that you have less pain when you do exercise.” 

When Not to Use a Massage Gun

If you have an acute upper back, shoulder, or neck injury, like a sprain or strain, avoid using a massage gun on those areas until your injury has healed otherwise you may exacerbate the injury, cause more pain, and prolong recovery, says Dr. Aeder. “A massage gun is not a healing agent, it's an adjunct to therapy for pain relief, recovery, or muscle performance,” she adds. “You don't want to use a massage gun on torn muscles, ligaments, or tendons, or on new injuries. And you want to make sure that those injuries have healed before you add in any massage with a massage gun.”

PT Tip: Remember to Strengthen Your Upper Body

Tension in the neck is often accompanied by weakness or tightness in the upper back and shoulders, says Dr. Aeder. “Make sure that, in addition to using a massage gun to relieve neck tension, you are staying active with an upper body strengthening program,” she says. This can include strengthening and stretching your back, arms, and shoulders. When these areas are strong, they’ll provide better support to your neck muscles, preventing further pain and stiffness from developing.  

How Hinge Health Can Help You

If you have joint or muscle pain that makes it hard to move, you can get the relief you’ve been looking for with Hinge Health’s online exercise therapy program.

The best part: You don’t have to leave your home because our program is digital. That means you can easily get the care you need through our app, when and where it works for you. 

Through our program, you’ll have access to therapeutic exercises and stretches for your condition. Additionally, you’ll have a personal care team to guide, support, and tailor our program to you. 

See if you qualify for Hinge Health and confirm free coverage through your employer or benefit plan here.

This article and its contents are provided for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice or professional services specific to you or your medical condition.

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