Acupuncture for Neck Pain

Struggling with neck pain?

All of us have suffered from some type of neck pain, or more formally referred to as cervicalgia, whether it be from the bottom of your head to the top of your shoulders. Over-the-counter pain relievers seem to be the most common response to neck pain, but what if I told you there was a natural and effective alternative that not only addresses the symptoms, but also the source of neck pain?

Neck pain is one of the initial reasons I’d sought help from an acupuncturist, many years ago. I had whiplash that seemed to resolve, but  months later it had resurfaced when I endured a lot of stress from work. The pain in my neck evolved into a persistent daily problem for several months despite physical therapy and chiropractic treatments. Yes, there were small improvements, but nothing seemed to fully resolve it… until acupuncture!

As a practitioner and herbalist, I now treat many versions of neck and upper back pain, some with a similar back story. Interestingly enough, most patients have no underlying injury or physical trauma to the neck itself. So where does this pain come from? Why did my pain return only under stress within my work environment? Many patients recognize that their stress is held in the neck or upper back, but why is this area so vulnerable to emotion-triggered pain?

In Chinese medicine, there are twelve channels that form the network of connections for the body to function normally. Two of the main channels that run through the neck and upper back are the Tai Yang channels, also referred to as the Small Intestine (SI) and Urinary Bladder (UB) channels. Each channel has a yin-yang pairing, and the Small Intenstine and Urinary Bladder complement the Heart and Kidney channels. The Heart is home to our “Shen” or spirit, and is the center of our desire. The Kidney is considered the source of our willpower. When we will ourselves to push through moments, environments, or actions that we don’t desire, essentially there is a disharmony between our Heart and Kidney. In some people, this conflict emerges as knots or tension in the complementary Yang channels that form our outer shell, especially along the back of the neck and around the shoulder blades.

The other two channels often involved are the Shao Yang channels, also called the Gall Bladder and Triple Burner channels. They are the Yang partners to the Liver and Pericardium channels. The Pericardium’s role as the “heart protector” relates to emotional boundaries, while the Liver system is largely responsible for managing stress and maintaining the smooth flow of qi. When we put ourselves under tremendous stress, whether that be in work or relationships, these systems tend to get overwhelmed and congested. This sometimes leads to excessive guarding in the physical body, especially the upper trapezius.

If you suffer from neck or upper back pain, do either of these scenarios resonate with you? While some patients find it helpful to meditate on these connections, others might be unaware of the emotional component as the acupuncture treatments gradually shift the body’s habit of storing tension and stress. Some might feel an immense emotional release, or find themselves crying for no reason during a treatment. Others just walk out of the treatment feeling that a weight has been lifted off their shoulders. As for my neck pain, it fully resolved after a couple months of acupuncture sessions, coincidentally right around the time that I set firmer work boundaries and resolved to make a break from my stressful boss. I didn’t connect these events at the time, but in hindsight, it’s certainly easier to see what that pain in my neck was.

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