Around 20% of Americans report incidents of neck pain, making it one of the top five disorders in the US. Studies show that neck pain, especially the chronic type, has a significant impact on a person’s mental, social and physical well-being.
Treatment for neck pain commonly includes physical therapy and medication. Severe cases may warrant surgical intervention. While these methods can help ease neck pain, they are not always effective and may also be risky in particular situations.
Consequently, more individuals are seeking alternative treatments for this condition, such as acupuncture. Acupuncture presents a gentle, safe and natural relief for neck pain.
What is Acupuncture for Neck Pain?
Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese healing technique that dates back thousands of years to around 100 BCE. It involves inserting special thin needles at strategic points in an individual’s body to stimulate healing of connective tissues, muscles, nerves and other elements.
Traditional Chinese medicine holds that meridians or energy pathways run through the body. These meridians influence bodily functions, and any blockage in the channels can result in medical conditions such as neck pain. These pathways mapped out are similar to the map of the nervous system.
Acupuncture sessions restore flow by inserting needles at specific points along the energy pathway. Some experts have also done studies which show that acupuncture therapy can cause the nervous system to release pain-relieving chemicals that can ease neck pain and other disorders.
A Closer Look at Neck Pain
Before delving deeper into the benefits of acupuncture for neck pain, it is essential to take a closer look at this chronic pain condition.
What is neck pain?
The neck area involves vertebrae that extend from the upper torso to the skull. The muscles, ligaments and bones of this area allow for motion and support the head. Any injury, inflammation or abnormality can cause neck pain.
Neck pain typically radiates from one area of the neck, but you can also experience pain in the forms of spasms, stiffness, and muscle tension.
Causes of Neck Pain
Many things can cause neck pain. Some of the most common include the following:
- Overused and weak muscles in the neck
- Repetitive motions
- Poor posture
- Grinding the teeth
- Poor sleep habits
- Frequently carrying heavy objects like bags
- Injuries from sports
- Pinched nerves
- Holding the neck in awkward, tense positions
- Severe headaches
- Jaw problems
- Conditions stemming from car accidents such as whiplash
- Inflammatory conditions of the spine
- Slipped disc
- Wear and tear on the cervical spine
While there are many potential causes for neck pain, it can be challenging to pinpoint a specific cause. The nerves, tendons, and bones in the neck are very close together, making it difficult to tell which part caused the symptom. It’s even harder to diagnose a cause for chronic neck pain.
Risks of Untreated Neck Pain
Most cases of neck pain are self-limited. That means it eventually resolves itself, which can last from a few hours to a few weeks. However, neck pain is not something to take lightly.
Increased intensity and frequency of neck pain is a red flag for other conditions such as muscle sprain, joint diseases like arthritis, herniated disc, spinal stenosis and more.
Even if there is no underlying condition, the lack of neck pain treatment can eventually cause secondary hypertension, interrupted sleep, chronic headaches, depression, disrupted social interaction, lost work time and disability.
Western Medicine for Neck Pain: Conventional Treatments
Western medical advice typically focuses on relieving the symptoms of neck pain. Common interventions include pain medication such as ibuprofen, aspirin or acetaminophen and muscle relaxants.
If swelling is present, you may be asked to put an ice pack and then heating pads to lower the swelling. Physical exercises may help with mobility. Severe cases may warrant surgery or shots of cortisone.
While these treatments may ease the pain short-term, they also come with risks. Prolonged intake of pain medication can damage the organs. Surgery does not guarantee a permanent cure for neck pain. Because of these risks, many patients are turning to acupuncture for neck pain.
How do acupuncture treatments work for neck pain?
Unlike Western medicine, acupuncture offers a holistic approach to neck pain instead of merely focusing on the pain. A licensed acupuncturist may start by asking about your daily routine, diet and symptoms to help determine the most effective points to insert the needles.
Acupuncture treatment causes little to no discomfort, but it triggers a stimulus inside the acupuncture points. The body responds to that stimulus by promoting circulation to the area, modulating the pain, healing wounds and stimulating the immune system. All of these contribute to the incredible pain relief of acupuncture for neck pain.
Benefits of Acupuncture for Neck Pain
According to a study published in the US National Library of Medicine, acupuncture for pain relief purposes only can have a superior impact over other interventions and the placebo effect. The study shows that acupuncture can offer the following advantages:
- Non-invasive approach
- Reduces the need for medication
- Relieves stress, which can also ease neck pain
- Restores energy flow
Aside from relieving neck pain, your acupuncturist will also help you determine necessary lifestyle adjustments that impact neck pain. This step can include following a clean diet, physical therapy, making positive changes at home and work and taking Chinese herbs that promote health and healing.
While Western medicine can be beneficial for neck pain relief, the potential long-term consequences such as liver damage from medication may outweigh the advantages.
Acupuncture presents a holistic, all-natural alternative that treats each patient as an individual and not just a set of symptoms. The integrative approach of acupuncture makes it an excellent alternative treatment for neck pain and other conditions.