Acupuncture is a natural health care option for the treatment of neck pain.
It is often combined with other tools of East Asian Medicine. These include massage, moxibustion, gua sha or cupping. All these approaches offer a natural, drug-free alternative for neck pain relief. They also address the underlying causes of neck pain.
This article will explore the common effects and causes of neck pain, including tips to prevent onset. We will look at the scientific evidence for the use of Chinese Medicine for neck pain.
What is the effect of neck pain on a person?
Beyond localised pain, the most common side-effect of neck pain is a headache.
The symptoms of neck pain disrupt everyday activities. Associated pain and immobility can prevent work and disrupt sleep.
What is the prevalence of neck pain in Australia?
According to Pain Management Australia, half of all people experience neck pain at some point.
Symptoms are more common in females and during middle age. Chronic neck pain affects somewhere between 10-34% of the people in the Australian population.
What are the risk factors for neck pain?
Posture is the most common risk factor. This is especially the case with prolonged work in unusual postures.
Kim et. al. identified strong psychosocial risk factors for neck pain. These include depression, conflict at work and perceived muscular tension.
What are the common causes of neck pain?
- Poor posture
- Sleeping in an awkward position
- Tension (including stress)
- An injury such as a muscle strain
- Prolonged computer/mobile phone use
- Wear and tear in the bones of the neck, which is a normal part of ageing
Common conditions of neck pain
This presentation is of acute onset. The story is generally ‘I woke up with it’.
It presents with generalized pain and stiffness that is usually worse on one side. The head is likely tilted to the affected side and rotated away as the muscles are tight.
The muscles involved primarily include the Levator Scapulae. There is also the involvement of Upper Trapezius, Scalenes and SCM and locking of C2 – C3 vertebrae
In Chinese Medicine, we consider exposure to external cold as a causative factor. It is common to see this after sleeping with the air-conditioning on all night/window open.
This injury commonly presents after an incident such as a car accident.
The cause is rapid neck flexion followed by neck extension.
It presents in the lateral and posterior aspects of the neck and is worse for movement. Often the pain may radiate into shoulders, arms or back.
Whiplash involves microscopic damage in SCM, spinal ligaments and facet joint capsules.
In Chinese Medicine, acute trauma like this causes Blood stasis.
There are many other reasons why neck pain may occur, such as arthritis, slipped disc etc. Consulting a practitioner can help to unravel these causes for you.
Tips for the prevention of neck pain
- Make sure you take regular breaks and take the time to stretch your back and neck muscles
- If you are working on a computer, make sure that the top of the monitor is at eye level
- Don’t leave your arms unsupported
- Sit with your knees slightly lower than your hips
- Avoid clenching your teeth
Here is more advice to try regarding exercises and getting support for neck pain.
What are neck pain treatment options?
Medical practitioners may recommend trying pain medications such as paracetamol or ibuprofen to help relieve symptoms of neck pain. This can help with the immediate pain, but may not address the cause of the muscle pain.
Treatment depends on the cause, but support options to try include:
- Ergonomic adjustments to work environment
- A new pillow
- Specific exercise programs to retrain and then strengthen the neck muscles e.g. physiotherapy
- Posture training exercises e.g. yoga or pilates
- Passive joint mobilisation or manipulation eg. osteopath or chiropractor
- Soft tissue massage
- Taping to guide the correction of posture
- Relaxation therapy e.g. meditation
Is acupuncture for neck pain effective?
The latest Cochrane Review on this topic is from 2006 (a 2016 update that had similar conclusions has been withdrawn). They examined research into chronic neck issues.
They found that acupuncture is better at treating neck pain than sham/inactive treatments. Neck pain was shown to be reduced at follow up visits. There is a moderate level of evidence to support this conclusion.
They found low-quality evidence of effectiveness in regards to the treatment of whiplash-associated disorders.
This conclusion is echoed in Binders’ 2008 systematic review on the same topic.
A systematic review in 2016 by Van Der Velde et al looked into cost-effective treatments for neck pain.
Acupuncture added to routine multimodal medical care was found to be cost-effectiveVan Der Velde et. al.
One might draw the conclusion that if acupuncture is found to be cost-effective, effectiveness is implied.
Is cupping for neck pain an option?
Kim et. al. conducted a 2018 systematic review and meta-analysis into the use of cupping.
They noted that there is an overall low quality of studies available. They made the usual call for better well-designed studies in the future to substantiate their findings.
Cupping was found to reduce neck pain in patients compared with no intervention or control groups, or as an add on treatmentKim et. al.
This is in agreement with the 2015 systematic review by Yuan et al, which showed a positive effect. But again called for studies of higher quality with better follow up and standardised treatment protocols.
Cupping could be efficacious in treating the pain and disability associated with chronic neck painYuan et. al.
Is Gua Sha for neck pain good?
The aforementioned study by Yuan et al showed a fair effect from the use of Gua Sha for neck pain. Further research is needed to determine any firm conclusions.
Does massage therapy for neck pain work?
The latest Cochrane review on this topic in 2012 was unable to draw any conclusions or make any recommendations. This is due to the low quality of research studies availability.
They did make a note that
As a stand‐alone treatment, massage for mechanical neck disorders was found to provide an immediate or short‐term effectiveness or both in pain and tenderness.cochrane review
Does Chinese Medicine treat neck pain?
There is an overall indication in the scientific research that acupuncture and cupping are useful for neck pain.
A recurrent issue in these reviews relates to the quality of the research conducted. Issues commonly exist with bias and blinding, as manual intervention techniques are notoriously difficult to create double-blind sham treatments for.
This article by John MacDonald is the essential beginning reading into the issue surrounding this type of scientific study into therapies like acupuncture.
Acupuncture for neck pain in Brunswick, Melbourne
What else would you like to know?
Thanks for reading this far. Have I missed your question? Was something unclear? Let me know in the comments below!