Acupuncture for Neck Pain
Neck pain is a very common condition. Statistics show that two out of every ten people suffered from neck pain last year. Neck pain can be caused by a number of conditions, including injury, improper posture, or infection. In the acupuncture clinic, we frequently see patients with neck pain from whiplash, herniated discs, pinched nerves, arthritis, fibromyalgia, and even improper positioning while working or sleeping. Recent studies have shown that acupuncture significantly reduces neck pain for all of these conditions both in the short and long term.
How does acupuncture work?
Physiologically, acupuncture works by shifting the release of biochemicals in the nervous system. Effects of this include a decrease in inflammation both generally and locally, as well as increased circulation in the area being treated. Acupuncture has also been shown to influence the release of naturally occurring pain relievers within the body, such as endogenous opioids and endorphins. All of this results in a decrease in pain and an increase in well being.
Neck pain in Traditional Chinese Medicine
From the perspective of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), neck pain is associated with stagnation of qi, a form of energy that flows through your body in channels called meridians. This stagnation can be due to a blockage of channels from injury, or due to a deficiency of qi related to not taking care of your body properly. From the perspective of TCM, the goal of acupuncture is to support healthy qi and help it to move freely through the channels of the body. This results in relief of pain and other symptoms.
Five Element Acupuncture
From a Five Element perspective, neck pain is most often associated with the Wood element. On a physical level, the Wood element governs the tendons and ligaments. Out of balance Wood element symptoms include neck pain, shoulder tension, jaw clenching, and headaches. On another level, the Wood element is associated with planning, organization, and vision. On this level, the experience of being frustrated or angry are signs that the Wood element is out of balance. This often emerges from plans not happening as you wanted them to. In Chinese Medicine these two symptoms - neck pain and frustration or anger - are correlated.
Let's look at a common example. The first time a stressful situation occurs, your shoulder muscles may tense up a bit. If this continues with each stressful occurrence, then this minor tension compounds, causing neck or shoulder pain. In the short term, this pain will easily come and go with the use of massage, heat, or over the counter painkillers. But these interventions are not actually getting to the root of the issue. If the root is left untreated, in the long term this minor tension can build up to major wear and tear on the tissue, leading to structural issues in the neck. Another common occurrence is that that this tension leaves the neck less able to move appropriately in response to sudden movement, such as a minor car accident or an improper technique at the gym. If the neck is already tight it will be more prone to serious injury in this instance.
Acupuncture treats the root of the problem. In addition to helping to physically release muscles, increase blood flow, and decrease inflammation, acupuncture also helps the Wood element to be healthier so that it's easier to notice and let go of physical tension from stressful situations. This prevents this tension from building up, and decreases both physical wear on the body and the probability of this tension leading to injury in one way or another. Acupuncturists discuss this at each treatment, offering simple lifestyle shifts that help maintain the health of the whole system.
One simple lifestyle shift that can have a large impact on the health of the Wood element is to check in with your body regularly throughout your day. For example, you might set an alarm on your phone to go off every few hours. When you hear this alarm, you are reminded to check in with your body and notice any tension that you might have taken on, especially in your shoulders, head, or neck. If you notice any tension, you can easily release it by doing simple stretches or even using breathing and mindfulness techniques. This ease of release comes from catching the tension early, as well as the effects of acupuncture. These techniques are very simple, but have a profound effect on the whole system. Releasing tension when it's still minor will prevent it from building into something major.
Another good lifestyle shift is making sure you get enough exercise. Exercise can be as simple as taking a walk a few times a week. This also has a profound capacity to release minor tension and stress, preventing it from setting deeply into your system. Yoga is also an excellent way to gently remove stress from your body on a regular basis.
In winter, another important lifestyle factor is staying warm in the cold weather. If you're not dressed appropriately when you step outside into the cold, your body will naturally tense up. If you are already having issues with neck pain, this tension will make it worse. Warm scarves or high neck shirts or jackets are very important in the winter to keep your neck warm and prevent the cold weather from exacerbating your pain.
This simple set of lifestyle shifts, including acupuncture, have the capacity to revolutionize not only your pain but also your experience of well being in general. To read more about acupuncture and neck pain, take a look at some of the related links below. You can also read more about Acupuncture, Eastern Medicine, Five Element Theory, or Our Philosophy. If you have any questions, feel free to Contact Us or Schedule an Appointment online.
Marni Adhikari, M.Ac, L.Ac, Dipl.Ac, is the founder and acupuncturist at Wisdom Traditions Acupuncture of Essex Junction, VT