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Category Archives: Neck Pain
Our neck must support our head, itself about a tenth of our overall body weight. It must also though, be flexible, and our quite amazing flexibility has been achieved by compromising somewhat on strength. The neck muscles are also at the mercy of our emotional state. All in all, neck pain is thus a common reason for seeking treatment. Indeed it now represents the fourth largest cause of disability worldwide (1), and is the second most common musculoskeletal condition treated by professional acupuncturists in the UK (2). My own experience is that acupuncture can be of significant help, particularly as Chinese medicine readily recognises and deals with, any emotional factors which are affecting the physical body.
The first distinction I need to make when you seek acupuncture for neck pain, is whether the problem is chronic or acute. Taking chronic cases first, these will have persisted for months or years, and may be due to long-term postural problems, occupational factors, old untreated injuries such as whiplash, or degenerative conditions such as osteoarthritis. They may be accompanied by restrictions in your range of movement, making reversing a car difficult. There may be headaches, pain referred to the shoulders or arms, or sensations such as pins and needles in your fingers. A comfortable sleeping position can be hard to find, and if you have been lucky enough to find just the right pillow, then you will be keen not to part with it! I will interview you so that we can together establish all the finer details of these and any other symptoms.
Treatment is usually weekly for a few sessions, with the aim of reaching a more comfortable and settled state, before we start to space the appointments out more. If a degenerative condition has been at work for some time, then although treatment is unable to reverse changes which have already taken place, it may however, slow the rate of further deterioration, and leave you feeling that the condition is less burdensome.
Turning to acute neck problems, these have often arisen in the 24 to 48 hour period prior to someone contacting me: perhaps they may have slept in the wrong position, or suffered whiplash, and found that their neck starts to seize up, and is painful when turning the head to look over the shoulder. I find these patients benefit significantly from one or two treatments spread over just a few days. Some of these patients will report that this is a problem which flares up every few months, perhaps triggered by stress, getting angry, being exposed to a cold wind, or even sleeping in a draught; if this is the case, we need to look more closely at how these relapses might be avoided.
Whatever the type of neck problem, you can expect me to take a look at your posture, check your range of movement, get to understand any occupational factors, examine also your upper back and shoulders, and discuss your health in the widest sense. My preferred treatment is frequently a combination of acupuncture, massage and lifestyle advice. I might give you some stretches or Chinese qi gong exercises to practise. You will also notice I am very keen on keeping the neck warm and protected from the elements, so if you do not already do so, start wearing a scarf whenever you are out in cold or windy weather.
If you would like to discuss your particular symptoms in more detail, you are always welcome to call me.
(1) The global burden of neck pain: estimates from the Global Burden of Disease 2010 study. Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases, July 2014.
(2) Acupuncture in practice: mapping the providers, the patients and the settings in a national cross-sectional survey. BMJ Open, January 2012.
A large cohort study in South Korea suggests cervical surgery rates are lower in patients who receive acupuncture. Patients with neck pain from acupuncture and control groups, were matched for demographic factors. Each group contained over 50 000 patients.
The hazard ratio for surgery within two years was found to be significantly lower in the acupuncture group compared to the control group, and this result was observed consistently across all age, gender and income strata. The authors conclude that acupuncture may be an effective way of managing the condition, and has the potential to help patients avoid unnecessary surgery.
(Cervical surgery rate in neck pain patients with and without acupuncture treatment: a retrospective cohort study. Acupuncture in Medicine, 20 August 2019.)
A meta-analysis by Korean researchers has concluded that cupping helps neck pain. Eighteen randomised studies were included. The majority of studies looked at the effect of ten treatments, reflecting the chronic nature of a lot of neck problems.
Compared with no treatment, cupping was associated with significant improvements in pain levels and function. Compared with active controls, cupping was also associated with significant pain reduction and improved quality of life. Adverse events were infrequent, mild and temporary.
The authors cite a paper published in 2016, which concluded that the increased use of computers and smartphones around the world, is leading to a rise in neck pain. They say that cupping may therefore be an important and cost-effective therapy.
(Is cupping therapy effective in patients with neck pain? BMJ Open, 5 November 2018.)
A particular branch of acupuncture, known as abdominal acupuncture, is effective for neck pain according to researchers in Hong Kong. In a randomised trial, 154 participants with neck pain, aged 18 to 65, were randomly allocated to receive either abdominal acupuncture or a sham equivalent, for six sessions over a two week period. At the end of the treatment period and also four weeks later, the real treatment group exhibited a greater improvement in neck pain. This difference was even more significant three months after treatment had ended. Patients in the true treatment group also had some significantly better quality-of-life scores compared with those in the sham group.
(Efficacy of abdominal acupuncture for neck pain: A randomized controlled trial. PLoS One, July 2017.)
British researchers have found that the wide-ranging lifestyle advice given by acupuncturists to patients with chronic neck pain, is associated with reduced pain and disability. In a three-arm trial, 517 patients were randomly allocated to receive acupuncture (up to 12 sessions), Alexander treatment or usual care. Acupuncturists were encouraged to provide their usual lifestyle advice, tailored to each patient, and covering such matters as exercise, relaxation, diet, rest and work. Advice was found to be provided to 84% of patients.
Compared with those in the usual care group, acupuncture patients made more lifestyle changes and improved their ability to reduce their neck pain without resorting to medication. This behaviour was associated with significant reductions in pain and disability scores after 12 months. The authors conclude that lifestyle advice based on acupuncture theory leads to active patient engagement, and this in turn makes an important contribution to treatment benefits.
(Lifestyle Advice and Self-Care Integral to Acupuncture Treatment for Patients with Chronic Neck Pain: Secondary Analysis of Outcomes Within a Randomized Controlled Trial. Journal of Alternative & Complementary Medicine, March 2017.)