Foam rollers—you’ve probably seen these cylinders in the gym or being used by athletes on the sidelines of a game. Did you know that they may be just the thing you need to ease your neck strain?

See Neck Strain: Causes and Remedies

man with neck pain Foam rolling and other forms of massage can help ease pain when it originates in the neck muscles. See Cervical Spine Anatomy and Neck Pain

Foam rollers have become a popular way for people to treat muscles with self-myofascial release, or self-massage. Experts think they work by increasing blood flow to the muscles and alleviating soft tissue adhesions, sometimes referred to as muscle "knots" or "trigger points."

See Trigger Point Exercises for Neck Pain

An analysis of 12 high quality studies found that massage can provide short-term pain relief for those with idiopathic neck pain, compared with standard care.1

See Neuromuscular Massage Therapy

Foam rolling is specifically to relieve muscle pain, so if you have neck pain that’s caused by a problem such as degenerative disc disease or arthritis, check with your doctor before you attempt using a foam roller.

See Cervical Osteoarthritis (Neck Arthritis)

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Tips for foam rolling safely and effectively

If you’re ready to try foam rolling to ease your neck pain, keep these tips in mind:

  • Foam rollers should be used on muscle, not bone or joints. Avoid using it horizontally on your neck, directly over your spine. Instead use it vertically, rolling out from either side of your spine.
  • See Cervical Spine Anatomy and Neck Pain

  • Slowly roll the foam roller until you find a tender spot or trigger point. Then apply gentle, steady pressure to that spot until pain subsides, but no longer than 60 seconds.
  • Foam rollers should cause slight pain or discomfort as they release muscle knots, but not severe pain. If you feel sharp or stabbing pain, stop immediately.
  • Avoid using a foam roller on your lower back, since back muscles are rarely the cause of low back pain and foam roller may make other low back conditions worse.
  • See Causes of Lower Back Pain

  • Because muscle knots in your neck or shoulders can be hard to reach, you may find that a theracane or trigger point massager works better for you than a foam roller.

See Neck Pain Treatment

Combined with stretching exercises, physical therapy, and medication, foam rolling can be a simple and effective way to relieve neck pain.

See Neck Stretches

Learn more:

Chronic Neck Pain: What Condition Is Causing My Neck Pain?

What to Consider Before Starting Exercises for Neck Pain

References:

  1. “Massage Therapy for Neck and Shoulder Pain: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2013; 2013: 613279. Published online 2013 Feb 28. doi: 10.1155/2013/613279