Do you wake up in the morning with a crick in your neck? Or are you working hard all day, straining your neck, so that it’s sore and painful at the end of the day? Maybe you’re under a lot of stress, and you hold it all in your neck and shoulders.
I have patients coming into my clinic all the time with these issues, and wanting to know what they can do to keep the pain from coming back.
Why Do My Neck and Shoulders Hurt?
First we need a bit of theory. According to Chinese medicine, pain is caused by stagnation – when things get stuck in a particular area. This could be qi, blood, body fluids, hormones, etc. To get rid of the pain, we clear away the stagnation and improve free flow.
In addition, the neck and shoulders are related to the Wood element. (Need a 5 element refresher?) Wood energy rises, and that’s why it causes neck and shoulder pain, as well as headaches. It’s also in charge of free flow, but when we’re under a lot of stress, things can get stuck. Think of it like a water hose. When it’s working properly, water flows through it, smoothly and evenly. But when it gets a kink, it stops the water from flowing. The tension from excess stress is our kink, and it stops the water from flowing through and “watering” the rest of the body.
So, How Do I Get Rid of the Pain?
It all comes down to two things: calming that rising Wood energy to redirect it downward, and breaking up stagnation to allow for free flow. And here’s how we do it.
1. Use Heat to Improve Circulation
I love to use Tiger Balm, or another heating ointment or liniment, rubbed into the neck and shoulders, covered with a damp towel and heating pad. This trinity drives the heat deep into the tissues, improving circulation and bringing fresh, oxygenated blood to the area. Hot Epsom salt baths are also great.
Many doctors and chiropractors will advise the use of ice. While ice does bring down swelling, and numbs the area so you don’t feel pain, in the long run it decreases circulation in the area, and can slow down you body’s natural healing processes.
2. Watch Your Posture
There’s this thing that’s been going around lately called “Forward Head Posture”, where you’re focusing so much on what is in front of you (computer, TV, phone, etc) that you push your head and neck forward and change the curve of your spine.
Ideally, your head should actually sit balanced atop your shoulders without much effort from your neck muscles. This keeps your neck aligned, and muscles relaxed.
As you can imagine, the blood vessels that provide nourishment to the muscles of the neck (and your brain!) flow freely when your neck is in alignment. But when your head is pushed forward, it puts a kink in those vessels so that no new blood can get there.
As difficult as it is to remember your posture when you’re focusing on other things – for the long term health of your shoulders, neck and brain, do your best to keep pulling your chin back and slightly down.
Yes, this seems to be an answer to pretty much anything these days, but there is good reason. Meditation calms that rising Wood energy, and focusing on your breath is a great way to reverse the flow downward.
You may shy away from “meditation”, or maybe your tried it once and gave up because you thought it didn’t work, or you weren’t doing it right. It’s time to give it another try.
Take a few minutes to sit comfortably, on the floor or in a chair, and notice what your neck and shoulders feel like. Are they relaxed with shoulders down? Are your shoulders tight and rising up to meet your ears? Take a few deep breaths, directed into any tight areas you find. Then, just continue to breathe, noticing your breath, any sensations you feel in your body, sounds in the room, etc. Your mind will probably wander away after a breath or two, just bring it back when you notice it drifting. Practice daily for best results.
4. Try Acupuncture
With chronic, severe pain, these DIY methods may not be enough. If you’re still struggling, it’s time to call in some professional help. Acupuncture is fantastic at breaking up the stagnation that causes neck and shoulder pain. I combine a short massage, acupuncture, and an infrared heat lamp for the best effects.
Bonus: Acupressure Point
Bl60 – Kunlun Mountain
Have you had any luck with these methods? Have you tried other things that worked for you? Share your experience in the comments below.
Elizabeth Allen is an acupuncturist in Greenville, South Carolina, specializing in pain management, women’s health, and psycho-emotional issues. She’s passionate about helping people feel their best and sharing her wealth of knowledge with the community. Elizabeth is the owner of AcuMed Spa, on Wade Hampton Boulevard. Appointments can be made by calling 864-451-4313, or scheduled online here.