I'm in my mid-30s now, and much of work is done in front of a computer - all day and night. Gone are the days in which I play basketball, run track, and hit the weight room 5 or 6 days a week.

I now have chronic neck issues -- really stiff knots on the left side of my neck.

I go for chair massages in the nail salons. If I get lucky, I find a person who doesn't b.s. me to get me to add more money and time to the massage and really fixes the issue for me, by applying lots of pressure to the tension areas of my neck.

But the problems eventually come back, and I have to go for massages again, and hope to find someone who will fix the problem. Unfortunately, most massage therapists at the nail salons just kind of stall and do other things during the massage session and only rub out the tension areas for a minimal amount of time, in order to make me go back for more sessions.

So, my question is: Is there something I can do on my own to fix this problem?

Should I hit the gym again and maybe work on dumbell shoulder presses? Bench press? Pull-ups?

Should I seek a medical doctor? A chiropractor?

I tried massaging myself...which doesn't seem to work at all.


  • I'm not sure if this might help, but after having a minor disc slip in my neck, I had chronically tight traps. I'm not saying you do or don't have that. One of the techniques that really helped me was a barbell trap scrub. If the weight of the barbell isn't enough, add a 10 lb. plate (more if you think you'd like that). I find this is good at releasing some of the deep knots, but I like some of the official answers that were given for a more permanent solution.
    – Frank
    Apr 7, 2018 at 1:41

9 Answers 9


I cant diagnose you but a doctor might be able to identify if you have any of the following: enter image description here

I think you may have Thoracic Kyphosis/Forward Head ("Computer Guy" Hunchback): Upper cross syndrome is another posture issue caused by sitting while hunching forward (at a computer, over books, etc). The pectorals and the upper back/next tend to be tight, while the scapular muscles (shoulder blades) and neck flexors tend to be weak.

This reddit post has excellent information on why you're doing different exercises, but many of the links have degraded. This pdf demonstrates how to do the specific exercises mentioned (skip to page 4 for the specifics for this section, although all of the stretches are good).

For more information, see ExRx on Common Postural Deficiencies

Source: reddit.com

  • 2
    Wow I never knew the posture labelled lumbar lordosis was bad posture. Jun 27, 2016 at 17:26

I would recommend a balanced and proven strength training program. The typical office job tends to provide numerous posture issues and strains from being in awkward positions for hours at a time.

Good strength training will simultaneously strengthen and provide flexibility across all your major muscle groups, including your shoulders, neck, and upper back. As a beginner you really don't want to train these things in isolation. It's not as effective, takes longer, and you're much more prone to injury.

Good luck, and you're at a great age to start getting some terrific benefits.

  • 3
    Good answer, but I'd challenge the claim that "you really don't want to train these things in isolation". It's anecdotal, but my neck problems completely resolved after I started wrestling, there were many exercises specifically for the neck.
    – BKE
    Jun 27, 2016 at 7:52
  • I'm glad that worked out for you, but I think it's pretty clearly established that isolation exercises tend to have higher injury rates than compound multi-joint, in addition to over-and-under development problems (like the classic "chick leg" syndrome, or inward rotated wrists from benching endlessly).
    – Eric
    Jun 28, 2016 at 17:03
  • 2
    How exactly does the "chicken-leg syndrome" or "benching endlessly" generalize to the problem posed by the OP? Specific neck exercises can be useful for neck problems, so the answer "do a general strength program" is not complete.
    – BKE
    Jun 28, 2016 at 17:59
  • Because the problems with "his neck" is probably not his neck, it's a combination of his neck muscles, erector spinea, levitator scapula, and upper trapezius. Not to mention that all of those just anchor against other connective tissues connected to other things. Advising the guy to "do some neck exercises" isn't addressing the issue and won't address larger issues.
    – Eric
    Jun 28, 2016 at 18:01
  • 1
    Exactly that, most people with neck problems have it because of trapezius problems. Then it makes no logical sense to do compound movements that could risk to even worsen the situation, the only way to fix it is to literally train your neck and make it stronger to compensate for the traps and erector spinae. Doing neck exercises is the only logical thing to do here. And compound movemts is the most logical thing to avoid in this case.... how are you not going to get injuried with compound exercises if your body is unbalanced?
    – Ekaen
    Apr 6, 2018 at 14:20

I wanted to join the commentary because I too started having upper back problems around my shoulders and neck when I entered my 30s**. I spent a full year trying a number of different things including going to a chiropractor, seeing my doctor, and going to numerous physical therapy sessions before I finally found a regimen that worked for me. Here is what I found that helped:

Disclaimer: Please note I am not a doctor so I would encourage you to discuss this with your physician before taking any of this as word.... I'm simply repeating back my experiences and what I was told by medical professionals.

  • Turning "off" the problem muscle - Every muscle in your body is basically an on/off switch. When you flex, your body is just forcing blood flow to the muscle in order to turn it "on". If your problem is muscular (which neck and back problems usually are), a trick that most physical therapists will do is to identify the muscle that is stuck in the "on position" and use pressure to restrict blood flow and turn it "off". You can do this at home yourself most easily with a tennis ball or with another person using their thumb. Identifying the taught muscle can be difficult to do but usually it is at the point of pain/stiffness. Simply apply pressure for around 30 seconds to the taught muscle and you should feel noticeable relief when the muscle turn "off". This is a real art form to get the hang of and you have to do it relatively sparingly as you can cause bruising if you over use it. It is also important to note that this is only a temporary solution as there is typically some underlying issue that is causing a muscle to get stuck "on".

  • Ibuprofen - My doctor actually prescribed me 3x Ibuprofen twice a day and a bunch of exercise to correct my issue. I thought he was nuts at first but after doing this for a month, my symptoms were relieved more than anything else I did. Ibuprofen helps relax the muscles as well as provide pain relief and when paired with careful exercise is outstanding for physical therapy. You can actually take quite a lot of ibuprofen (unlike acetaminophen and other NSAIDs) and I still take it on occasion if my back starts bothering me. After experimenting with other muscle relaxers he prescribed me, I would hands down recommend ibuprofen over any other "meds" for back pain.

  • Exercise - Often times muscular problems result from the body attempting to protect some previous injury. You pull one muscle and all of the muscles around the area respond to "protect" that injury. Unfortunately this often results in your body getting used to bad form and now your muscles are operating in a manner that isn't healthy (and in turn is causing you pain). Targeted exercise is absolutely necessary for weak and recovering areas. Learning what routine exercises you should perform to get your body healthy is the best argument I can recommend for doing physical therapy. You might find it worth taking a few sessions and collecting a list of exercises that are right for you. Then once you know what you should be doing, make sure to practice them religiously and you really will see miracle results. Back pain actually convinced me to get back into shape and when I find myself getting lazy and neglecting my exercises only then do I start to see my pain coming back.

  • Stretching/Yoga - Yoga is a brilliant solution for keeping your body healthy and limber and for reducing stress (neck and upper back is a common area for people to collect stress). When you find yourself "all bound up" your best course of action is to turn off problem muscles and then carefully stretch around the problem area. I have a list of around 10 Yoga poses that help me greatly especially when I'm experiencing issues around my shoulders.

  • Ergonomics - A few posts have already mentioned posture and proper desk setup and this is an important point that you don't want to neglect. By itself it probably won't cure you, but improper form can most definitely contribute to an increase in symptoms. I would recommend doing some research on best practices so that you can make your work space as "livable" as possible. For me it was moving my screen closer to my eyes, getting a good chair that supports good posture, and keeping my chair height appropriate.

  • Attitude - I was almost hesitant to list this but I think it is an important point when talking about physical fitness and aging. Louis CK has a funny routine about having problems with his ankle in his 40s and having the doctor tell him "yeah, it's going to start doing that from now on". Pain and physical ailments are something that come with aging which is why it is so important to take care of your body. Your mental mindset plays a big role in dealing with these challenges and really should not be ignored. My Dad, who is a cancer survivor, had a term he called "leaning into the pain" when dealing with severe pain. You would be greatly surprised the amount of pain your body can tolerate and I can certainly attest to having a greater threshold now then I did 3 years ago before my problems started. Always remember to stay positive and keep your physical therapy goals forefront in your mind. Doing this will help you get through the rough patches and keep you from getting discouraged when your neck is really bothering you.

Things that didn't work for me: Seeing a Chiropractor, heating problem area (this only temporarily works and the muscles tighten again as soon as you remove the heat), pain killers, muscle relaxers, massages.

So to summarize: 1) See your primary care doctor, 2) Consider doing a couple physical therapy sessions, 3) Learn how to deal with the issue when it gets bad by stretching and turning off muscles, 4) Find an appropriate exercise routine for your needs 5) Improve your workspace to support good practice 6) Stay positive.

Good luck to you! I hope this works for you as well as it did for me.

** My Symptoms: I started waking up some mornings, unable to move my neck in any direction and my trapezius muscle on my right hand size would stay completely taught for days at time resulting in severe pain. After a catscan and several doctors visits I was diagnosed with a bulging disc in my neck and upper back.

  • So good to hear someone else has had similar experiences to me. That said, I am sorry to hear about the disc issue. I was diagnosed with the same thing. I received a nerve block (epidural) on the affected nerve and it was a tremendous relief. It lasted about 6 months until I had to get the second one a week ago. I would highly recommend this if your problems continue.
    – Frank
    Apr 7, 2018 at 1:34

I used to have a lot of neck problems from playing the saxophone. Two things helped.

  1. Don't bend your neck to do your work, adjust your screen and your chair until you can sit comfortably. Take time to do this properly. Adjust and use the armrests. Read the ergonomic guides and believe them.

  2. Ask the fitness studio guy for exercises to help your special problem. They should be trained to do exactly this, and are pleased to get a challenge.

  • "mid-30s now", "Gone are the days"....

    Your body has a long way to go (hopefully). It is a good idea to make the time now to set up an exercise/recreational program that increases your chances for a healthy, long-term active lifestyle. Your neck is a warning sign, the "canary in the coal mine", pointing to more musculo-skeletal problems as you age.

  • "chronic neck issues", "Is there something I can do on my own to fix this problem?"

    Yes, but you may need professional guidance.

    Chronic suggests that you are chronically causing your neck problems. A professional assessment is due. First see a doctor or physical therapist to evaluate the cause, then plan a strategy to undo your chronic problem.

    If your neck pain is a musculo-skeletal problem, your therapist can:

    • treat what is wrong (muscle, joint, nerve, fascia, posture etc.) anywhere in the body including your hips and back,
    • help you determine what you are chronically doing that aggravates your neck,
    • give your exercises (stretching, strengthening and postural) or ways to correct these problems on your own on a daily basis, and

    • hopefully get you back in the gym!

      Massage may be a part of the treatment. Your physical/physiotherapist may also show you ways to use tennis balls, a theracane, foam roller or other methods to self massage with better results than you are having now. They may also give your short-duration, corrective exercises or moves to do while at work.

      Exercise - Although massage can be helpful, exercise will probably give you better long term results. Again, professional guidance may be helpful, saving you time and energy to find the specific combo of exercises that work for you.

      Your therapist can give you an explanation of the proper ergonomic desk set up as this OSHA diagram shows. Tweaking your workstation set up may make a big difference to your neck posture, joints and muscles.

However you decide to tackle this problem, make sure to follow-thru. Good luck.


Go to a proper Registered Massage Therapist instead of someone at a nail salon. Often they will be covered by extended medical (in the same category as physios probably) and they actually know what to do to help with longer term relief. Additionally, THEY will be able to tell you what exercises and stretches to do to release tension and perhaps improve strength in that area.

Also, you said "chair massage" at the nail salon: my RMT works my WHOLE back to help with my neck problem. Muscles all work together and even if one area is sore it can certainly influence or be influenced by stresses and strains in other muscle groups. I can't imagine a massage being done in a chair being remotely helpful except for very superficial and temporary relief...

I have similar problems (computer work + I'm a gamer = sore and stuff neck and shoulders to the point of causing frequent headaches). What the RMT does often HURTS but it feels better afterwards. That being said, because I don't really have the ability to change my working situation (my desk is too low to allow proper ergonomics for me) and I'm unwilling to give up gaming - the pain and stiffness comes back. I have started doing yoga and generally exercising more and the overall increase in exercise seems to be helping quite a bit. Taking frequent breaks to stretch throughout the work day also helps a lot.

One thing that my RMT told me (and it may apply to you) is that my pectoral muscles are SUPER tight. So you could work at stretching those out and seeing if that helps much?

Overall though my advice would be to see a RMT on a monthly (or more frequent) basis until you start feeling better consistently. They should be able to guide you in more specific stretches and exercises to do. :)


The mind/body methods can permanently reduce muscle tension when they work at their best. The tension is physical and psychological (psychophysical) caused by our sympathetic nervous system (SNS) being over active (to endless tensing up reactions) and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) losing the battle to release the tension and the associated repressed emotion. There are many techniques that can help with this - Western ones like Alexander Technique, Feldenkais, Rolfing and Eastern ones like Tai Chi, yoga/meditation. It is rather hard to get started with these things and many proponents of them have 'explanations' of their own - but the key thing is at their best they can rebalance the Autonomic Nervous System, release muscle tension and make you happier!


I'm fighting with this problem too.

In front of a computer 12 hours / 7 days of week / round year.

You could take my way. As you have mentioned:

hit the weight room 5 or 6 days a week

The background theory of my way: Why does neck hurts? Muscles too light to keep it properly straight. Because of lack of physical job. I'm not a hard worker, not a red-neck, I don't walking more than 1 hour a day even! It is like astronauts situation. You'd seen how they did returning from year of flying..... In wheelchair, like completely mutilated mans.

Recovery means a weight lifting. They are building their body. What does it mean? It is bodybuilding!

You must looking here not a neck-related question, but program for novice to build your body. Right food, not drugs. Right life-style...

That is why, I've bought barbell, bench and rack, plus 120kg in 25kg*2, 20kg*2, 10kg*2, 5kg*2 load. Approximate 1k$, not a higher equipment for top-athletes, my barbell would load 300kg at max, looks like it is Chines forgery, anyway break it will be interesting.

All of its are staying right in front of me, behind this monitor, in my room.

I've recovered in my memory three years of University's gym class...

Recovered this enigmatic word Powerlifting.

And started!

You need to increase muscles masses around neck, additionally, likely, part of your vertebra too suffer under high charge. Moreover, I'd like to start from spine to heal neck.

Powerlifting is one of the easiest set of exercises:

  1. Bench press ( shoulder girdle )
  2. Deadlift ( lumbar area )
  3. Squat ( all of back )

As you can see, All of this three exercises are training your back. Increasing muscle masses on the back decrease load on the spine bones.

One of advices, which you will hearing everytime anyway, if you gonna get my way: Right Food - is 80% of success. For example, I'm eating vitamins everyday after meal. And everyday I'm pushing around 13,825kg in sum. After training - there is Metabolic window ( 40min ), I'm eating Porridge with milk and finishing it with vitamins. Non-stop, 365 days...


You can easily fix your neck problems by "HOLISTIC" methods, which include massage, chiropractic, rei-ki, osteopathy, etc ...

You DON'T want (or need) surgery or pills (especially pain-killers !!), or other pharmaceutical drugs. They will only upset your body-chemistry and aggravate the problem !!

Instead of drugs or pills, try herbal teas. They are very-powerful, mainly because they obey the first rule of medicine, which is to "Do no harm" ...

  • And, you can back up these claims how?
    – rrirower
    Jun 27, 2016 at 17:52
  • Well, I do therapeutic-massage, and my experience is that it's a "kinder + gentler" way to help folks who have common medical problems, such as stiffness and/or pain in the neck region ... Plus: I fix'd my own lower-back problem, several years ago, (I'm 68), by just-simply doing massage on myself ... Now I do the same simple massages, every day, on myself, to prevent the problem from returning !! Jun 27, 2016 at 19:38
  • The problem with pharmaceutical-drugs is that they're so strong that they upset your body-chemistry ... and surgery is almost always totally unnecessary for simple problems like sore neck of back ... and the older we get, the more we need "holistic" methods, because they are most-effective for "old-age" problems, up to and including the one which scares people the most, which is, of course, CANCER ... Jun 27, 2016 at 19:42

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