Acupuncture for Neck and Shoulder Pain

Almost everyone these days suffers with neck and shoulder pain at some point in their life. This is in part because of the way we live; activities such as computer use and driving can over time put unnatural strains on the neck and shoulder joints. On top of that, a common response to stressful situations is to hunch the shoulders, and if the stress is ongoing, the muscles involved become increasingly tight and eventually painful. Other causes of neck and shoulder pain include trauma, whiplash, degenerative arthritis of the spine, spasmodic torticollis, cervical spondylosis, cervical spondylitis and, rarely, some abnormal conditions of the heart, lungs, spinal chord or abdominal organs.

Neck and Shoulder Pain and TCM

Diagnosis in TCM usually analyses a problem into what is the immediate cause of the problem (called the Branch) and what is the underlying disharmony which gives rise to the problem (the Root). Simplifying somewhat, with shoulder and neck pain the immediate cause will be either simply Qi Stagnation – the Qi is not flowing freely through the neck and shoulder area—or obstruction of the Qi by an external pathogen (an alien form of Qi which invades the body). Typically with neck pain a Cold pathogen of this type may be involved, especially if we have been exposed to cold draughts on the neck or been out in cold weather.

Treatment therefore begins with expelling any pathogen and promoting the smooth flow of Qi through the neck and shoulder area. Acupuncture is effective in this, but other forms of treatment such as moxibustion (in the case of a Cold pathogen for instance) and massage may also be helpful. In the case of an acute problem, such as waking up with a stiff neck, this may be all the treatment needful to resolve the problem, but in the case of chronic neck and shoulder problems we also need to treat the Root.

This is why we always look to give you a thorough and detailed consultation in which we ask you about all aspects of your health and well-being, including aspects which might not be obviously related to neck and shoulder pain. For instance, if your digestive system is not functioning optimally, causing symptoms such as bloating and tiredness after meals, a poor appetite and maybe loose stools, this will mean that all the muscles and other tissues in your body are not getting the nourishment they need. This nourishment obviously depends on food, and on our ability to digest food effectively. Thus an impaired digestive system may contribute to neck and shoulder pain. In this case we would want to regulate and strengthen the digestive system, using acupuncture and perhaps herbal therapy. Similarly, and this is often the case with neck and shoulder pain, your emotional life may be part of the Root. If for example there is a lot of frustration or anxiety in your life, this will tend to impair the smooth flow of Qi in your system generally, which becomes ‘uptight’ and tense. This may manifest in tight shoulder and neck muscles; acupuncture, as well as Chi Kung, is effective at restoring the smooth flow of Qi throughout the body, calming and relaxing the mind, and helping the neck and shoulders to soften and release.

Is Acupuncture Helpful in the treatment of Neck & Shoulder Pain?

A review of ten different trials has concluded that there is evidence that acupuncture is effective for chronic neck pain1. Furthermore, according to a Norwegian trial, acupuncture can have significant long term effects in the treatment of shoulder and neck pain2.  A recent Spanish study3 of 201 patients with various forms of shoulder pain recorded complete resolution of symptoms in 59.7% of patients and remarkable improvement in a further 33.8%. The authors concluded that acupuncture shows good results for shoulder problems, even when these are long standing.


1 Trinh K.V. et al (2006) Acupuncture for Neck Disorders Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews Issue No 3.

2 Pain, July 2004; 109(3):299-307

3 Guerra J. et al (2003) Acupuncture for soft tissue shoulder disorders: a series of 201 cases. Acupuncture in Medicine 21(1-2):18-22.


The Sean Barkes Clinic does not claim to cure any conventional medical disease states. Traditional Chinese Medicine seeks to re-establish and maintain the harmonious function of the human body-mind using tried and tested principles that have been discovered and matured over millennia. A Western medical diagnosis provides very little by way of insight in informing a Chinese Medical diagnosis. Patients usually recognise their own condition in terms of the medical disease category that they have been given by their GP or other conventional medical practitioner. The research presented here is merely an indication of the potential to draw parallels between Traditional Chinese Medicine and Modern Western Medicine.

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