Acupuncture for Neck &Shoulder Pain

What is neck & shoulder pain?

Neck & shoulder pain is a common condition — so common, in fact, that the expression "a pain in the neck" is an oft-used figure of speech in English. It can be mild enough so that it is a mere annoyance, or severe enough that it can adversely affect the quality of one's life. Because of its position and range of motion, and because it plays a vital role in the support of the head, the neck is more subject to injury than any other portion of the spine. While it is much less frequent than back pain, neck & shoulder pain can occasionally be severe enough to warrant attention from a licensed health professional.

Neck & shoulder pain can have a variety of causes. Keeping your head in an awkward position can cause your neck muscles to fatigue and the joints in your neck to "lock" in place, causing discomfort, stiffness and limited range of motion. Neck & shoulder pain can also be caused by a sudden force (such as an automobile accident), or a medical condition (swelling, disease, tumors, bleeding, inflammation, etc.). Some neck & shoulder pain can also cause headaches.

Who suffers from neck & shouolder pain?

Almost everyone will experience some sort of neck & shoulder pain or stiffness during their lifetime; however, certain occupations appear to be predisposed to neck & shoulder symptoms. Manual laborers, for instance, have more symptoms than office workers, and the type of work seems to affect the risk. A person's age and a history of twisting and bending during work can also contribute. Workers who have been required to do repetitive tasks with their upper extremities, or who undergo periods of prolonged sitting with their head in a flexed position (such as typing on a keyboard at a desk) are at risk of developing mechanical neck & shoulder pain.

What can acupuncture do for neck & shoulder pain?

Studies have shown acupuncture to be effective in relieving certain types of neck & shoulder pain, particularly those caused by whiplash. Some studies suggest acupuncture can treat degenerative neck & shoulder disorders such as ankylosing spondylosis and cervical spondylosis; in many cases, acupuncture has worked for patients whose conditions could not be solved using conventional approaches.

The authors of the study were rather forthright in their praise of acupuncture. "Our results show that acupuncture is a safe form of treatment for people with chronic neck & shoulder pain, and offers clear clinical advantages over conventional treatments in the reduction of pain and improvement of mobility," they wrote. In particular, it was suggested that acupuncture could be beneficial in treating patients with myofascial pain syndrome, which is estimated to be present in up to 90% of people with chronic neck & shoulder pain and can be easily recognized through a patient's case history or a detailed physical exam.

Ice or Heat for Neck Pain?

Almost all of this applies to necks, too. But probably not quite as strongly.

·         Like back pain, most neck pain is not actually injurious and inflammatory in character.

·         Like backs, necks are frequently irritated by cold. For instance, one of the most common minor pain problems in the world, the common neck crick, is routinely precipitated by a cold draft on the skin at night.

·         And, like backs, necks tend to prefer heat.

Unlike backs, however, necks are actually injured fairly frequently. “Acceleration injuries” — whiplash — are more common and more serious than low back muscle strains, and involve large amounts of more superficial tissue damage and inflammation, the pain of which can be relieved by ice in the early stages.

Unlike backs, necks are thinner and therefore easier to ice effectively … when ice is called for. To the degree that inflammation may occur in the neck, it is easier to reach with ice — thinner tissues are easier to chill. So again, when they’ve been hurt badly, icing necks may be more effective than icing backs.

However, without a clear and recent injury (almost always a car or skiing accident), icing neck pain should be avoided for the same reasons that you should avoid icing back pain.

by Paul Ingraham, Vancouver