Neck Pain (Acute & Chronic) - A Chinese Medicine Perspective
What is Neck Pain
Pain in the neck (sometimes caused by torticollis) is an extremely common complaint in Western patients. The neck is a crucial part of the body that very readily reflects the state of tension and stress typical of the rushed lifestyle of industrialised countries which causes tensing of the neck muscles and pulling of the head backwards .
Neck pain is generally either acute (recent onset of pain) or chronic (pain that has been present for several weeks, months or even years).
Causes of neck pain include:
- Muscle strains. Overuse, such as too many hours hunched over your computer or smartphone, often triggers muscle strains. Even minor things, such as reading in bed or gritting your teeth, can strain neck muscles.
- Worn joints. Just like the other joints in your body, your neck joints tend to wear down with age. Osteoarthritis causes the cushions (cartilage) between your bones (vertebrae) to deteriorate. Your body then forms bone spurs that affect joint motion and cause pain.
- Nerve compression. Herniated disks or bone spurs in the vertebrae of your neck can press on the nerves branching out from the spinal cord.
- Injuries. Rear-end auto collisions often result in whiplash injury, which occurs when the head is jerked backward and then forward, straining the soft tissues of the neck.
- Diseases. Certain diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, meningitis or cancer, can cause neck pain .
Neck pain is one of the three most frequently reported complaints of the musculoskeletal system , together with low back pain and osteoarthritis.
How Does Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) view Neck Pain
Chinese medicine views any disorder in terms of Yin/Yang, and the ease of flow of Qi (body’s bio-electricity) and Blood/Xue (energetic quality of blood). Further, it views disorders as either being caused from internal imbalances or external/environmental factors.
Acute neck pain is most frequently due to either an invasion of Wind-Cold or a sprain. The symptoms are similar in both cases: neck pain with sudden onset, rigidity or stiffness and a limitation of movement in turning the neck from side to side.
An underlying Liver pattern (Liver-Blood deficiency, Liver-Yang rising or Liver-Qi stagnation) is a predisposing factor for this condition, as one of its functions is to nourish the tendons and ligaments in the body. If acute neck pain is due to exposure to climatic factors, it is invariably due to Wind because it attacks the top part of the body and causes stiffness and rigidity.
Chronic neck pain develops as a consequence of repeated acute attacks that are not treated properly. In chronic cases, an underlying Liver pattern is almost always present. In women it is most likely to be Liver- Blood deficiency, in men it is most likely to be Liver-Qi stagnation or Liver-Yang rising, and in the elderly it is more likely to be Liver-Fire or Liver-Wind .
Research into the effectiveness of acupuncture for neck pain (acute and chronic) clearly demonstrates its safety and lasting effectiveness [3,4].
At Kurrajong Natural Medicine Centre our highly qualified and experienced practitioners are ready to help. Simply call (02) 4573 0784
What You Can Do to Help Yourself
Basic self-help takes care of most routine neck pain flare-ups:
- Use cold compress to numb the early acute pain and reduce inflammation.
- Use a neck collar for short periods to rest the painful muscles and tissues and ease your discomfort. Collars have a bad reputation from people overusing them and getting weak muscles, but used a few hours here and there they can be very useful.
- Apply heat—either with a heating pad or by using a warm whirlpool bath if one is available—after a day or two, once the acute pain calms down.
- Seek help from a healthcare professional – as seen above acupuncture may help to reduce pain and reestablish flexibility.
- Marciocia, G. (1994) The Practice of Chinese Medicine: The Treatment of Disease with Acupuncture and Chinese Herbs, Edinburgh: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone.
- Mayo Clinic (2021) Neck Pain. URL: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/neck-pain/symptoms-causes/syc-20375581 – last visited 15th July 2021
- Trinh, K., Graham, N., Irnich, D., Cameron, I. D., & Forget, M. (2016). Acupuncture for neck disorders. The Cochrane database of systematic reviews, (5), CD004870. https://doi.org/10.1002/14651858.CD004870.pub4
- Samuels N. (2003). Acupuncture for acute torticollis: a pilot study. The American journal of Chinese medicine, 31(5), 803–807. https://doi.org/10.1142/S0192415X03001375