Acupuncture for Neck and Shoulder Pain
Recently, a young mother came into my office suffering from shoulder and neck pain. The center of the pain was a tight knot at the apex of her left shoulder. The pain was strong and nearly constant. It radiated from the shoulder to the base of the skull and there was a feeling of tightness that radiated across the front of the chest.
She is a busy mother. Playing and lifting her daughter exacerbated the problem. She had been seeing a chiropractor and a pain management doctor who was doing injections for 3 years without relief. She ended up taking pain medication almost everyday, she was extremely frustrated with her situation, and her sleep was terrible from the pain and tightness.
After one acupuncture session her pain was lessened by about half. At the end of a series of five treatments, along with some exercises at home, she had only occasional minor pain, and did not take any pain medications.
What is your approach to treatment?
The results of the acupuncture treatment depends upon the skill and approach of the practitioner. My success comes from the combination of acupuncture and acupressure over large muscle groups, using the whole acupuncture channel, treating the root of the condition, and my unique acupressure technique, which I learned in China. Also,I advise patients to do exercises and stretches at home to prevent the problem from returning.
Shoulder and Neck muscle groups
The body is interconnected, tension from one area can create problems in other muscles. In Tai ji we say that tension in the little toe can create tension in the whole body. 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.
In my patient’s case the knot was on her shoulder, specifically in her trapezius muscle. Focusing on this muscle alone, and not relaxing the detoids, rhomboids, SCM, and even the biceps leaves the surrounding muscles tight.
The body is integrated by a series of channels. The location of pain and stiff muscles often follows the course of a specific channel. Targeting powerful acupuncture points on that channel, will move the stagnation that is causing the pain. In my patient’s case, the pain was on the Gallbladder channel and I used GB 34 to move the stagnation.
Some outside the field of acupuncture and Oriental Medicine believe that needling the location of the pain is sufficient. This is called dry needling, which is not nearly as effective as when the entire channel is considered.
The key tui na technique I use is called the rolling technique, called gun fa in Chinese. Many acupuncturists know this technique. However, most do not utilize the movement of the wrist along with the whole hand which makes the technique feel smooth. I learned this while studying in China with Dr. Xiao at the Hunan University of traditional Chinese Medicine.
If you push too hard on a muscle, the muscle will rebel. Instead of relaxing, it can become tighter. My rolling technique, because it is smooth allows the use of strength while avoiding resistance within the muscle.
Treating the root of the condition
Chinese medicine is not simply putting a needle into the body where it hurts. It is based on a theory that the problem you have is caused by an imbalance. When it comes to muscle pain, the clinician must determine if it is an excess condition or a deficiency condition, and tailor the treatment to that diagnosis.
Excess conditions are when there is a build up in the muscles. This impedes the circulation of qi 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.
I like to describe excess and deficiency by comparing the muscles to a narrow bridge (please excuse any physics mistakes, I am not an engineer).
When there is an excess condition, there is too much trash, debries, and cracks in the pavement for you to safely and easily cross the bridge. Climbing over the obstacles causes you to slow down, and sometimes you injure yourself. The acupuncture and tui na helps to remove the trash and smooth over the cracks.
When there is a deficiency, the support columns for the bridge are unstable. The bridge is rocky, can develop cracks, the sidewalk is tense, but shaky, and the tension on sides of the bridge increases. This also makes it hard for you to pass. In this case, the acupuncture and acupressure helps to support the bridge, which will allow you to cross safely.
For an excess condition, you will use a stronger technique, and for a deficient condition, you will use a more gentle technique. If the deficiency is very extreme, then the treatment may be take a longer time.
Neck Exercises at Home
Acupuncture treatment helps to correct the imbalance and allow the body to heal. Staying healthy and preventing the pain from returning is something you do on your own with qi gong exercises and stretches. Use these neck stretches and basic qi gong to keep your body healthy and prevent the pain from returning.