Exercise, Treatment

Less Neck & Shoulder Pain Equals a Happier Head: The Joys of Massage, Menthol Muscle Rub & Yoga

My neck and shoulders are finally loose enough to reduce my migraines and headaches. (Knock on wood.) After years of trying to treat them with no success, I assumed my neck and shoulders were destined to be tight.

After four months of intense, frequent massage and myofascial release, I feel like a new woman. The benefits have become so evident in the last week because I’m finally doing some regular yoga practices and am smearing my back with menthol muscle rub nightly.

No dibs and dabs for me — this is a heavy-duty layer of sticky, smelly menthol balm. I fight the chills for the first 30 minutes I’m in bed and the smell is migrating from our bedroom to the hall. No matter, I really do feel better.

I had some success with Woodlock Oil a year ago, but backed off when I learned that artificial menthol is made with turpentine. Since then I’ve searched in vain for a product with naturally occurring menthol — not that there’s any way to really tell. Clearly, I’ve given in. (I just realized that I could contact companies directly. I may not learn much, but it will be more than I know now.)

I try to do some chest, neck and shoulder focused yoga stretches each morning and before I go to bed. The stretches are so helpful that fitting them in my day is no longer a chore. The best part? The effects are immediate.

Now I’m looking for a good muscle balm. What do you recommend? I’ve tried:

  • Biofreeze: My favorite so far
  • Sombra: My massage therapist used this yesterday; not greasy or too stinky.
  • Jason Mineral Gel: Doesn’t smell to bad, but smeared like crazy
  • Safeway Generic: Smeared on the side of my face and irritated my eyes all night

Cinnamon muscle balm is a great option if you don’t want to smell like menthol. Just know that I may scream and run the other way if I smell you.

I only have a week of relief under my belt. Who knows if it will continue. Even if my migraines eventually thwart the benefits, my muscles no longer being bound up is at least a blessing to my back.

Many thanks to Linz who recommended myofascial release, my lovely yoga teacher Kelly, and the fabulous acupuncturist and massage therapist I’ve seen. If you’re in the Seattle area and interested in seeing any of my healthcare providers, send me an e-mail for contact information.

12 thoughts on “Less Neck & Shoulder Pain Equals a Happier Head: The Joys of Massage, Menthol Muscle Rub & Yoga”

  1. Superb site you have here but I was wanting to know if you knew of any forums that cover the same topics talked about in
    this article? I’d really like to be a part of online community where I can get feedback from other experienced people that share the same interest. If you have any suggestions, please let me know. Thanks!

    The Daily Headache’s forum is no longer active, but Migrainepage.com and Migraine.com both have helpful forums.


  2. My migraines are lessened with yoga. Also getting enough rest. If I have a restless night I try to get a nap in during the day. I think alignment is important so in yoga I feel this is addressed best. Ice of course if the aching begins and taking an advil or anti inflamatory. Mine usually start in the shoulder and then work their way up to the head right side throbbing and complete rest is needed then.

  3. Yes, Kiki, I would like the recipe for menthol rub. Ice and exercise help but then the pain is back, shoulder, neck, head and the inside of my eye socket.
    Thanks, May

  4. I wake up almost daily with head, neck and shoulder pain. It is just awful!! I have used hot pads, bed buddies, ice and medications (over the counter and prescription) and most of the time nothing helps!!! I have had migraines since I was 10 years old and I am in my 40’s now. I cant afford massages or physical therapy right now b/c I dont have insurance. I will try anything at this point. I miss too much work and my daily activities are limited b/c of the pain. Does anyone know of any yoga moves, exercises or stretches that could possibly help with the pain?


  5. Kerrie,

    Great news that your headaches are better. I’ve had a migraine for eight weeks straight and just started seeing a specialist.

    BTW, I have been making my own menthol rub for about a year. It’s super easy to make, and that way I know what goes in it. Also, I can regulate the amount of fragrance, etc. that goes in. Email me if you’d like the recipe. Seriously, it takes about 20 minutes to make, and all that you need are a few ingredients and a double boiler. It’s lots cheaper than the stuff from the store, too!


  6. I had horribly debilitating headaches all up until I was about 40 years old when I heard that foods could trigger them. I cut out chocolate and never had a migraine again, 23 years migraine free that is… I meet other sufferers that connected the symptoms to chocolate, one was working at a See’s candy shop!!! It’s hard to make the connection because the headache will come on a few days after eating the chocolate… some wines would do exactly the same thing to me, I don’t miss that stuff at all, no way do I miss it, well, I still miss the Chocolate but that part of my life is gone now 🙂

  7. How often do you get the massage treatments? I’ve been going once a week for the past month for one hour sessions that focus on back shoulders and neck but the migraines are still frequent.

    I’m going once a week. Not sure what kind of massage you’re getting, but I’ve learned that basic relaxation massage is more about stimulating the circulatory and lymph systems, not treating muscles specifically. It still relaxes muscles, of course, but I notice a huge difference in “regular” massage and myofascial release.

    Take care,

  8. I’m a Biofreez fan myself. It always feels so soothing after a good massage.

    Thanks so much Kerrie for your blog. I can’t describe what a difference it has made to me this past year. You have such a great way of blending important articles and information with the realities of living with headache pain.

  9. I have had the chiropractor use the biofreeze on me and I liked it. The SalonPas are great for my back, but be careful that they don’t get damp at all because then the capsacin in them will burn (they get pretty hot anyway.) I am a bartender and on my feet all day and they really do relieve my back pain. They are pretty reasonably priced too (like a buck a piece at Rite Aid)

  10. It’s funny that you posted this. I’m sitting here slathered in Icy Hot as I write this!

    I have had a massage therapist use Biofreeze on me, and I really liked it. I didn’t buy it at the time, but now I’m thinking I might do that.

    Thanks for the other products reviews. It’s always nice to hear another user’s opinions before spending money on something that may or may not be good.

    I hope the way you’re feeling now lasts. At least through the holidays. That in itself would be fabulous.

    BTW, January will be the second month of the Headache & Migraine Blog Carnival I’ve started up. I e-mailed you about it, but feel free to let me know if you have any questions. It would be great to have your quality posts included.

    – Diana

  11. It may be worth it for you to try Theraflex creams. I like their products. Also, give Salonpas a try. I carry the patches in my purse for when I need to relieve shoulder pain while out and about. Do a web search for either and you’ll find more info.

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