Acupuncture for Neck Pain
Larry Han, AP
October 23, 2016
There are quite a few conditions that can lead to neck pain. For most people, they are related to the muscles. When the muscles create discomfort, they can be very easily corrected, often only taking one or two treatments. I do not believe anyone needs to have 30 separate sessions of “adjustment” for “out-of-alignment” of their neck. In my experience, a muscular type of neck pain simply takes one or two treatments to correct.
Below is a list of signs and symptoms that may correspond to neck pain. Rate how severe your neck pain is using a self-assessment based on the symptoms listed. If you have any of these symptoms, you can consider making an appointment with your doctor.
- History of degenerative changes of your cervical vertebrae or intervertebral disc.
- Prior or recent diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis.
- Recent trauma (i.e. Automobile accident, whip-lash, sprain, slips, falls, etc.)
- Pain radiating to one side of your ear or eye – most likely signifies a condition called Lesser Occipital Neuralgia.
- Pain radiating to your upper shoulder, deltoid muscle, upper arm, forearm, or hands – most likely signifies a more serious condition called Cervical Syndrome (this means that the degenerative change has affected the cervical spinal nerve from C4 down).
- Pain in the upper top area of the neck, without affecting the shoulder, arm, or hand – in this case, you are most likely to have a higher level degenerative change in the C2, C3 segments.
Here are some of the signs and symptoms that usually indicate that the pain is likely due to nerve impairment: Coldness or pallor in the affected area, numbness, tingling sensation, loss of body hair, areas of localized skin seems to be thinner than usual, and loss of muscle mass in the affected area.
Self-assess with the symptoms listed above.
Constant and prolongingly keep your neck in a forceful position, usually are the blame for neck pain, for example:
- Work related. Forced your head forward (holding in a turning angle – chronically) to operate computer can strains the splenius cervices, this usually leads to discomfort when you looking down and up. Having a habit of driving with head sticking forward fatigue the same muscle.Another cause may be long hours of studying, or especially for young people, long hours of having their head in a bent down position due to constant mobile phone usage.The picture below shows the splenius cervices muscle, in which you can see the broad-based origin area and the thin, small insertions on C1, C2, C3 and C4. When the muscle is strained, you can feel discomfort either at the origin base or along the insertions (the yellow arrows show the areas in which you would feel the pain)
- Activity or Exercise related. Have you ever noticed that after carrying a heavy back pack, sometimes you can get sudden onset headaches? Or after several laps of freestyle in the pool, you are experiencing neck soreness instead of soreness in your arms? Well, you are right. It is the trapezius muscle that is bothering you. If the areas pointed by the yellow arrows (muscle origin and insertions) are tender to touch, you probably have a trapezius strain. Again, one or two treatments in our clinic should rid you of your discomforts.
- Fatigued muscle. Remember how much it hurts when you have that stiff neck? A stiff neck can come from a sudden movement of your head or neck into an uncomfortable position, such as from looking back too quickly while driving, or just from simply waking up with a stiff neck due to hours of uncomfortable sleep placing strain on your neck. This is a good example of a muscle reaching its limit and losing its flexibility and elasticity. When we have a prolonged and forceful strain on our neck to one side or when we sleep with a pillow with a sub-optimal pillow height and size, strained muscle can lead to spasm and inflammatory responses, including severe pain. The best example of this is the strain on the Levator scapula muscle, pictured below.
Now you have self-assessed your neck discomfort(s). If your pain correlates with any of the above-mentioned muscular causes, use a heating pad in the affected, painful area for 20 minutes a time, 3 to 5 times a day. You may very gently rub the muscle, but I would suggest you do this with caution – a hard massage will worsen the situation, resulting in more swelling and pain.
Acupuncture can be used to treat various causes of neck pain. For instance, performing acupuncture on a strained muscle can quickly trigger the immune response, resulting in stimulation of the micro-circulation. This quickly removes the lactic acid and other byproducts of inflammation so that the soft tissue can be re-nourished, leading to the relaxation of the muscle.
For some spinal nerve or spinal column-related ailments, I would connect the acupuncture needles on the neck to an electric stimulation machine and use it to create a regional or “segmental contraction” effect to target the specific vertebral segment for treatment purposes (i.e. vertigo, tinnitus, Normal Pressure Cerebral hydrocephalus [NPCH], bulbar paralysis, Parkinson’s disease, dementia, narcolepsy or severe insomnia).
Make sure your acupuncturist performs an orthopedic test as well as a muscle test to precisely identify the troubled muscle. He or she should also do a neurological test if required, based on the presenting symptoms, making sure that they are only targeting the problematic muscles only, and not unnecessarily placing needles all over the body in order to use acupuncture to “mask” your problems. Remember, a muscular-related neck pain is very easy to identify and even easier to treat, requiring between one and three treatments applies to most cases. Talk to a neurologist for all your nerve-related problems. Learning more about your condition is essential; identify the specialty areas of your acupuncturist, do your research, and do not go to just “any” acupuncturist.
Larry Han, AP