Acupuncture in the treatment of neck problems

Treatment of neck disorders with acupuncture

Neck problems are very frequently seen in my clinic. They happen to people with some regularity, and in many cases are easily and quickly resolved. The most common of the neck complaints are tightness in the upper trapezius, and tightness in the levator scapulae. Although the names alone may not mean much to most people, you have probably suffered from one, or more likely, both conditions.
The upper trapezius is the muscle that runs from the shoulders to your neck and back. The middle and lower fibers run along your spine to the lower middle back. When there are trigger points in this muscle, the referral can send pain and tension from your upper shoulders to your jaw or even cause headaches on the sides of your head or next to your eyes. There is the additional presentation of raised shoulders.
Dependent upon the patient, constitution, severity and duration o the condition treatment options differ greatly. Treatment is tailored to give the patient the fastest and most lasting results based upon these factors. In the cases of patients with a more sensitive and responsive constitution this can frequently be addressed using neuromuscular techniques (no needles) to stimulate various reflexes and stimulating related muscles to facilitate a reduction in pain and decrease in degree of spasm. This can effectively ameliorate the degree of discomfort and dysfunction in many cases in one to three sessions.
In cases I have seen where the muscles feel like rocks and the person has been carrying their shoulders elevated for an extended period of time I use a technique called dry needle trigger point release. This involves working on the tightest fibers of muscle and stimulating them to fasciculate (twitching), which mechanically will release the spasm. Following the treatment it is not uncommon to experience some soreness, similar to after a good workout, for the remainder of the day and possibly the next day. The immediate and verifiable results following treatment are a loosening of the muscle and an increase in range of motion. Generally this decreases the related symptoms of headaches and jaw tightness (if present on intake), and also increases the strength of the muscle.
In most cases, regardless of presentation, therapy is given at distal points (areas not near the shoulders or neck), that will further stimulate the muscle to relax and mobilize the body’s healing processes. These points also help to restore overall balance in the body to assist the treatment in holding longer.
Levator Scapulae is a different kind of presentation, although it is frequently seen in conjunction with the upper trapezius. This muscle runs from the upper inside corner of your shoulder blade past the nape of your neck and connects to the upper cervical vertebrae. Some of the functions of this muscle are turning the head and raising the shoulder blade. If you have ever woken up with a stiff neck, and have problems turning your head to one side or both then you know the muscle. At times this can become severe and the duration may last more than a day or two. This patient will walk in with a demonstrable problem in cervical rotation (turning head). At that point I press on the muscle, and if it tight and painful, confirmation has been given that the muscle is in spasm.

Treatment, again, is based upon the constitution of the patient and the presentation. In cases where a patient is more responsive to distal work, there are points on the hands and feet that I have used very successfully to immediately improve the range of motion (generally by 80-90%) and decrease pain. The results are dramatic and if the situation is acute tend to show resolution within 1-2 days without further intervention.
In more severe cases I tend to use the dry needle trigger point technique. In one particular case, a patient had slept wrong while having cold air blown on her. When she came in to see me her right shoulder was raised as if she was cradling a phone with her shoulder (she wasn’t actually cradling a phone). It was immediately apparent the problem was with this muscle. I had her get on the table, and within 4 minutes of treatment her shoulder was back to normal, and she had full range of motion. I have seen many other patients who had come in with a stiff neck from sleeping, or limited range of motion turning their heads who have responded immediately once this muscle was addressed.

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