Overview of neck, shoulder, and back pain

Neck pain is a common medical condition that occurs in the area of the seven cervical vertebrae of the neck. The neck and shoulder contain a variety of structures, including muscles, nerves, bones, and ligaments. Back and neck pain can come on rapidly and intensely, meaning it is acute, or can last for years, meaning it is chronic. This pain often varies from patient to patient in whether it is constant or intermittent.

What causes neck, shoulder, and back pain?

Neck, back, and shoulder pain can be caused by a variety of factors. At Dr. Lu’s Acupuncture and Massage Clinic in Portland and Vancouver, we see patients who suffer from this pain due to many issues, including:

  • Sudden Force/Automobile Accident
  • Degenerative Disc Disease
  • Overuse/Improper Use
  • Oseteoporosis
  • Neck Strain
  • Medical Condition: Swelling, Tumors, etc.
  • Degenerative Arthritis
  • Whiplash
  • Muscle Tension or Spasm
  • Bone Spur
  • Herniated or Protruding Disk
  • Pinched Nerve
  • Ligament/Muscle Tears
  • Cervical Spondylosis
  • Ankylosing Spondylosis

In Oriental and Chinese Medicine, an acupuncturist often finds the main cause of acute neck pain, back pain, and shoulder pain is the stagnation, or blockage, of Qi (vital energy) and blood in the meridians or damp-cold (external environmental factors) retention in the meridians. In chronic cases, this type of pain can be caused by a deficiency of the energetic functional organs, such as Kidney, Liver, or Spleen.

What are the other symptoms associated with neck, shoulder, and back pain?

There are many different ways neck and shoulder pain can manifest. The pain may be sharp, dull, stabbing, or burning. Pain can lead to stiff neck, shoulder, or back, often causing limited range of motion in the joints. Besides pain in the neck, back, and shoulder, pain may also radiate to other areas of the body causing arm pain, jaw pain, head pain or ear pain. Some patients’ neck pain also causes associated symptoms of nausea, headache, weakness, numbness, swelling, deformity, difficulty swallowing, or dizziness.

Diagnosis of neck, shoulder, and back pain

To start with, a full review of history of symptoms is used for the diagnosis of neck pain This includes how and when the pain began, things that make the neck and shoulder pain better or worse, quality of the pain, location and radiation of pain, severity of pain, and associated symptoms. At Dr. Lu’s Acupuncture and Massage Clinic in Portland and Vancouver, we use a variety of physical exams, including orthopedic exams, along with palpation of tenderness in the neck and back and range of motion.

We also use the theories of Chinese Medicine to diagnose, which includes finding tenderness along the effected acupuncture channels and meridians. The channels often affected by neck and shoulder pain are gallbladder, bladder, and large intestine meridians.

Treatment for neck, shoulder, and back pain

Once the cause and diagnosis of the neck, back, and shoulder pain is determined, a treatment plan can be determined for an individual patient. Many patients are given Western medical treatment options such as rest, physical therapy, applying ice or heat, injection of cortisone or anesthetics, medications such as muscle relaxants or pain killers, and surgery. At our Portland and Vancouver acupuncture and massage centers we use alternative healing methods to provide holistic treatment. Using our knowledge of Chinese Medicine, we combine acupuncture, acupressure, and Tuina (Chinese massage), along with Chinese herbal medicine to provide patients a holistic healing experience. Many of our herbal remedies, consisting of Chinese herbs, have allowed our patients to see great improvement in their neck and shoulder pain, along with underlying conditions.

Treatment at Dr. Lu’s Acupuncture and Massage Clinics

A patient with neck and back pain will be asked their medical history to start with. If the patient has already seen a Medical Doctor for their condition, we will ask them for any diagnosis they have been given, as well as any imaging done, such as MRI and X-Rays. Then, the patient is evaluated from a western medical point of view as well as the Traditional Chinese Medicine point of view. Palpation for tenderness and ropey muscles along with a check of range of motion will be done. The spine will be evaluated for any misalignments and orthopedic testing will be done. Then, using the meridians of Oriental Medicine we will palpate for tenderness in the acupuncture channels, feel the patient’s pulse, look at the patient’s tongue, and also ask questions about the patient’s general constitution to determine which energetic organs are involved in the neck and back pain. Gathering all of this information allows Oriental and Chinese medicine to take a holistic healing approach to the patient’s condition.

Acupuncture treatment is given to the patient first according to their Chinese Medicine diagnosis. Various acupuncture points can be used for neck and shoulder pain, such as SI3, BL62, GB34, TW5, GB20, GB21, trigger points or muscle motor points for the back, neck and shoulders, and the “cervical spine” ear point. In chronic conditions of neck pain, we often add acupuncture points that correspond to the energetic organs involved, such as BL18, BL20, BL21, and BL23. Electro-acupuncture, similar to a TENS machine, is often used for neck pain, shoulder pain, and back pain. Studies show the electro-acupuncture can be more effective than a TENS machine treatment, and patients experience a comfortable tickling feeling. Then patients receive acupressure and Tuina Chinese massage to further release muscle spasms, realign the joints and spine, unblock the acupuncture meridians and regulate the function of the energetic organs to allow for neck pain relief.

Chinese herbal medicine is also an important part of therapy for neck and shoulder pain, especially for chronic, constant, or severe neck pain. At our Portland acupuncture clinic we use Chinese herbs to create many specific and effective herbal remedies to address neck pain, shoulder pain, and back pain.

How to prevent neck, shoulder, and back pain

Neck and back pain can be prevented by correcting and sustaining proper sitting, standing, and sleeping posture. Keeping muscles strong with regular exercise and proper stretching when exercising is also important to prevent neck and shoulder pain. When lifting heavy objects, proper techniques should be used to prevent injury.

What is the prognosis for neck, shoulder, and back pain?

Prognosis of neck, back, and shoulder pain depends on the individual patient’s condition. However, overall, an acute condition of neck pain can usually expect a full recovery for most cases. Chronic conditions due to degeneration may take longer treatment and may require maintenance treatments, but at our Portland area clinics, we have developed a very effective protocol that often works better than conventional therapies our patients have tried before. We have had patients report shrinking in size of bone spurs in the cervical spine and other joints. Many of our patients at Dr. Lu’s Acupuncture and Massage Clinic in Portland and Vancouver have seen great improvement from our protocol, including acupuncture, acupressure, Tuina Chinese massage, and taking Chinese herbs to help conditions, such as osteoarthritis or bone spur, degenerative disc disease, bulging disc or herniated disc of cervical spine, and chronic muscle strain. Most patients feel relief from neck and back pain within only a few treatments of acupuncture, acupressure, Tuina Chinese massage, and herbal remedies.