An Excerpt from "Deep Tissue Bodywork - A New Approach to a Classic Modality" by Marty Morales
The neck is a fascinating part of the human body. In our culture and in our expressions the neck has made itself clear as an exclamation point to our meanings. We say things like, “Grab it by the throat” or “Go for the jugular” or “They’re neck and neck!” to communicate the importance of some event or action and we use the neck as a method for that expression.
The examples are numerous and they all point to one thing: When we want to underscore something we use body parts as part of our expression. Even the actions that happen inside the neck area are used. Think about phrases such as “I got a lump in my throat” or “swallow your pride” to be convinced.
If you bring your middle fingers and two thumbs around your neck you can see that you can very easily put your hands around your neck. In that small space, that space enveloped by your hands, a myriad of activity happens. We have bone, blood, our central nervous system, lymph, food, water, and air in the form of our breath and our voice all passing through that one major area. It’s no wonder so many of us are fascinated by the neck!
The following techniques have been collected to help you help your clients get out of neck pain/discomfort. The following techniques are meant to be done methodically and slowly, never fast or with any type of thrust. If in doubt, consult a Morales Method® Certified Instructor and to learn more check out our New Deep Tissue Manual or our Advanced Neck Work Online Course!
Striping of the neck
This movement is meant to assess the muscles of the neck and to help formulate a plan for further work. We move from the T1 area all the way to the occiput. Notice the table is used as a fulcrum to allow for minimal wrist usage. The striping does not involve lifting up of the hands at the wrists rather you can use your forearm as a lever to allow your fingers to work the soft tissue between the Transverse Process (TP) and the Spinous Process (SP), the lamina groove. We are NOT putting the client in side-lying position for this technique. With my fingers in this position I can feel for trigger points, a vertebrae that is rotated, and tight superficial (upper trapezius, splenius) muscle tissue. I can also palpate for tight connective tissue septums.
The movement can vary as follows: Both hands moving inferior to superior at the same time or alternating (one hand moves up then the other, as the first hand moves back down to the T1 area to repeat the process). Note that in photo1 I am keeping the skeleton’s head in neutral position. The movements are minute and I only move as far as a vertebrae or two for the sake of precision and assessment.
Trapezius & occiput hold and release
When working, be sure to set specific intention as to the direction you want to move in medial towards the spine or laterally away from the cervical spine. This ensures a cross fiber stroke on the trapezius tissue that attaches to the skull. I will usually alternate the strokes (one side then the other) in order to be able to support the client’s head better. In addition to moving medial to lateral (or vice versa), this stroke can be modified to primarily work on the Sterno-Cleido Mastoid attachment at the skull and can be worked in a lateral to medial direction. Keep in the mind the direction of your technique will depend on Directional Resistance. Slow and steady work in this area is great for releasing tight tissue and/or trigger points.
Thumb work on the lateral side of the neck going towards the feet (inferiorly), is a great way to work the multifidus and the other cervical spine muscles that run along the groove between TP and SP. This technique can be lightened up to use it as a ‘preparatory work’ move or the force can be increased for deeper work.
I am working the tissue by pressing it up against the lamina groove with my thumb. Because I’m using their bone to ‘sandwich the tissue’, a strong barrier is created and very little force is necessary to create deep work, thus less strain on your thumb joint. You can use this technique to do a short stroke or to perform Trigger Point Therapy on an area of contracted muscle tissue. To create more force, move your hand so that you create almost a perpendicular angle between thumb and neck. Check in with your client to make sure the pressure is not too great as there is potential to create a lot of force in this manner.
You can also go in the other direction. Even though you may feel directional resistance going inferiorly, make sure you finish working inferior to superior. This ensures you finish the work with encouraging space between the vertebral facets. Don’t forget about the suboccipital muscles and working them in this direction. This technique can also be very effective on the Rectus Capitis Posterior Minor tissue. The next order of work with this technique would involve client participation (head movement).
Mastoid Process Cross Fiber
With fingers, perform a cross fiber stroke on the attachment of the SCM to the Mastoid process. Do slow and steady stroke in this area, going from anterior to posterior or vice versa depending on directional resistance. The head would stay in neutral position during this stroke, and only one side at a time in order to allow for proper stabilization of your client’s head. When working here imagine the 3 dimension of the SCM at this attachment point. The muscle here is very thick and its surrounding tissue can either move freely or keep the SCM bound to the skull. I’ve found that working here can bring out many tissue releases that translate into a free moving neck!
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