Pain affecting the neck is a common condition seen in our acupuncture practice. It is often caused by muscle spasm, neck sprain from whiplash, prolonged working on a computer, or stress. Other reasons for neck pain include degenerative disc disease, herniated disc or a pinched nerve. Neck pain is often referred to as cervicalgia.
The most common causes of neck pain from the viewpoint of TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) include:
- External pathogens, such as wind cold or wind heat invasion
- Internal factors, such as stress and heat with upsurging Liver and Gall Bladder energy (often seen in hypertension)
- Sports injuries, whiplash, and trauma due to motor vehicle accidents
- Muscle tightness from prolonged working on computers or keyboards
The pain is often dull and aching in nature, aggravated by movement of the neck. In severe cases the neck is stiff and the slightest movement induces a sharp pain. Other symptoms associated with neck pain are numbness, tingling, tenderness, sensation of fullness, vertigo, and swollen glands.
There are seven cervical vertebrae that form the spine of the neck. Between these vertebrae are discs and a pair of nerves at each level that emerge from the spinal cord to innervate the periphery of the body. Other structures of the neck include muscles, arteries, veins, lymph glands, the thyroid gland, esophagus, larynx, and trachea. Any condition affecting these structures or organs may lead to neck pain.
Treatment of neck pain with Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM):
Chinese medicine consists of a variety of modalities including acupuncture, cupping, moxibustion, Tui Na adjustments, massage, herbal supplements, herbal muscle relaxants, analgesics, herbal liniments, poultices, and topical pain patches. Depending on the type of neck pain, one or several of these may be employed. Both acupuncture and herbal medicine provide powerful and lasting relief from neck pain. Acute pain usually resolves quickly, and if caused by whiplash it is not unusual to cut healing time by a third.
Chronic neck pain due to degenerative disc disease, herniated discs, or spinal stenosis that has lingered on for many years responds well to TCM. Treatments need to be done persistently to stop the disease progression and reverse the degeneration. Acupuncture and Chinese herbs strengthen the tissues of the neck, rejuvenate the discs and cartilage, and release muscle spasms. Depending on the severity of the condition, therapy may require several months of treatment but avoiding neck surgery is well worth the effort.