Neck and Shoulder Pain
Chronic neck and shoulder pain is a very common problem which can occur from overuse, injury, stress, or poor posture. Neck and shoulder pain is often treated with acupuncture (1, 2). Acupuncture treatment often leads to long term pain relief.
For most people, neck and shoulder pain develops over time. At one point, your body was healthy and pain free. However, an injury or chronic stress leads to the development of chronic pain. Acupuncture and Chinese medicine work by bringing the body back to balance. By correcting the imbalance, acupuncture helps the body to heal.
Acupuncture Imbalances Causing Neck and Shoulder Pain
Acupuncture is based on a theory that the pain is caused by an imbalance. When it comes to muscle pain, the acupuncturist must determine if it is a condition of stagnation or deficiency. The treatment will be tailored to that diagnosis.
Stagnation occurs when there is a lack of circulation in the muscles. This impedes the circulation in the acupuncture channels and muscles, which leads to pain. A deficient condition is when there is not enough energy. Then the muscles do not have enough substance to support them, as a result they tense up.
There is an old acupuncture saying which states, “When there is movement, there is no pain. When there is no movement, there is pain.” When there is no circulation and the muscles are tight, pain occurs. This is often caused by stagnation.
Stagnation may develop from an injury, wear and tear, or chronic stress. Chronic stress is one of the most common causes of stagnation, which is why it is easy to develop pain and injuries during periods of high stress.
The other common issue with neck and shoulder pain is qi weakness, or too little energy. In this case, the acupuncture must focus on building up the energy to promote healing.
For an excess condition, your acupuncturist may use a stronger technique, and for a deficient condition, your acupuncturist may use a more gentle technique. If the deficiency is very extreme, then the treatment may be take a longer time.
Acupuncture Treatment for Neck and Shoulder Pain
A successful acupuncture treatment must match the correct identification of an imbalance. Often, the acupuncture treatment will involve acupuncture, electroacupuncture, and tui na.
For the imbalance of stagnation acupuncture points on the neck and shoulders such as Gallbladder 20, Gallbladder 21, Small Intestine 11, and Du 14 may be selected. When the root cause of the shoulder pain is an underlying weakness, then acupuncture points to boost up the qi should be used. These point could be Spleen 6, Kidney 3, and Liver 3. Patients often feel some relief after a few visits. A full treatment course may range from 4-10 visits depending on the severity and complexity of the pain.
Physiological, acupuncture works to reduce pain and inflammation through regulating neural pain pathways, stimulating the release of natural pain relieves in the body, such as opioids, as well as regulating pain relieving opioid receptors. Many studies have also shown acupuncture to have a anti-inflammatory effect, reducing the circulating inflammatory hormones in the blood (3).
Tui Na for Neck and Shoulder Pain
Tui Na, or Chinese medical massage, is also very helpful for treatment of shoulder pain. One of the most powerful and unique techniques in Tui Na is called the rolling technique, called gun fa in Chinese. This technique uses the back of the hand to roll over the muscles. Rolling technique is both soft and strong, allowing it to get deep into the muscle and help with relaxation.
If you push too hard on a muscle, the muscle will rebel. Instead of relaxing, it can become tighter. The rolling technique, because it is smooth, allows the use of strength while avoiding resistance within the muscle.
Treating the Whole Person
Acupuncture will address the whole person, not just the neck and shoulders.
The body is interconnected, tension from one area can create problems in other muscles. Often, trying to target and treat only the location of the pain does not relieve the tension in the surrounding muscle groups. This is particularly true when treating pain in the neck and shoulders. All of the muscles in the region need to be addressed.
Acupuncture helps to relax the body and the mind. Stress and pressure have a profound effect on neck pain development. The stress causes the muscles to become tense. The muscle tension then causes stress, creating a cycle. The acupuncture can help to break this cycle.
1. Sherman KJ, Cherkin DC, Eisenberg DM, et.al. The Practice of Acupuncture: Who Are the Providers and What Do They Do? Ann Fam Med 2005;3:151-158.
2.National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Acupuncture for Pain. Accessed on 1/23/2012.
3. Napadow V, Ahn A, Longhurst J, et.al. The Status and Future of Acupuncture Mechanism Research. J Altern Complement Med. 2008 September; 14(7): 861–869.
written by: Joseph Alban
Last Edited: 1/23/2012