Relieving Neck and Shoulder Pain

Relieving Neck and Shoulder Pain

Neck and shoulder pain are both very common and very uncomfortable. Everyone has had a “crick” in their neck at some point in their life – either they woke up with it or suddenly moved their
head/neck and the muscles tightened up, spasming, causing restricted movement and discomfort.


The neck is especially vulnerable to pain and tension as it does a lot of work to hold up our heavy heads
and many muscles of the upper back connect to the neck. You can also have neck pain if you have a shoulder injury, especially if the injury goes without treatment for a long time.

Neck and shoulder pain are some of the most common issues I treat each week. Acupuncture is really effective at helping with pain, and especially pain in the neck and shoulders. One of the reasons these issues are so common is our frequent and consistent use of computers, cell phones and driving. We are often in a position where our arms are out in front of the body, palms down, and the head may be jutted forward (also called anterior head carriage), all putting a strain on the muscles in our neck, upper back and shoulders.

Historically we used our bodies in a more balanced way – so the muscles in our upper back and neck were stronger and were able to balance out any strain on the neck and shoulder – and the anterior upper body as well. But now it is common for people to have chronic neck and shoulder tension and pain, tight pectoralis muscles (just below the neck on the front of your body), limited range of motion, and eventually injury.

What can you do to help yourself?
  • Work on your posture. One of my favorite books is Eight Steps to a Pain Free Back by Esther Gokhale. The author is an acupuncturist who developed exercises for her own back pain based on improving posture for the whole back, upper and lower. It is a good place to start if you would like to improveyour posture and as a result you will likely have less pain.
  • Apply heat to the neck and shoulder. Ice is a very helpful pain reliever for acute, swollen, hot joints. However, muscle tension and pain is more frequently helped by the application of heat. I like the heating pads that are made from natural ingredients, such as rice, and you can even make one yourself. Mild and gentle heat (please do not burn yourself) can loosen muscles and relieve pain.
  • Apply a topical pain reliever directly to the muscles – one I like that is very easily found is Tiger Balm. Tiger Balm comes in a red and green version – either is fine – and it is most effective if it is vigorously rubbed into the tight muscle(s) one or two times a day. Of course please follow any contraindications listed on the package if you have medical conditions, but generally this is a very safe pain relieving method.
  • Try massage, acupuncture or chiropractic to get deep and effective relief. At home care is very important and I recommend it to all my patients – but acupuncture, cupping and gua sha are really great for jump starting your healing process. Once you are out of pain, treatment focuses on helping the surrounding muscles heal and strengthen so you do not have a repetitive injury.
  • Once you are out of extreme pain, start working on rebalancing your neck and shoulder muscles. A few tips – when you are not at the computer, driving or using your phone, turn your palms up. You can do this walking around the house or anytime as a break. Also, start doing gentle scapular squeezes. This exercise strengthens the mid back and helps to stabilize the scapula (the winged bone on your upper back). Scapular stabilization is very important for long term neck and shoulder stability and pain relief.

A typical course of acupuncture treatment for neck and shoulder pain is 1-2 treatments per week for 4 -6 weeks. With each treatment patients see improved range of motion and diminished pain.

We’re always happy to answer any questions you may have or to see you in the clinic for orthopedic care.

2017-07-31T15:40:52+00:00 July 31st, 2017|