I have used Dry Needling for Neck Pain in my San Diego Acupuncture clinic for 27 years on close to one thousand people.
Dry Needling provides very quick relief from all kinds of chronic and acute neck pain. It successfully treats:
- Numbness and Tingling in the Neck, Arms, and Hands from Nerve Entrapment and Bulging Disc
- Joint Stiffness and Tight Muscles in the Neck, Jaw, and Shoulders from Overuse and Stress
- Trigger Point Neck and Shoulder Pain
- Neck Pain associated with Migraine and Tension Headache
- Neck, Shoulder, and Back Pain from Car Accident/Whiplash
Dry Needling for neck pain gives quick relief –many people feel immediately looser and notice dramatically increased range of motion in their neck and shoulders even after just one treatment. Most people feel significantly better after just three treatments.
Courses of treatment can be as few as one to three treatments, but in more severe cases Acupuncture and Dry Needling therapy can range from six to ten treatments over a period of two to three months. I often recommend Chinese, Western, or Ayurvedic herbal medicine to help reduce inflammation, reduce pain, improve circulation and relax muscles. I only use herbs that have been tested in the USA.
I also recommend Magnesium Citrate which helps relax tight muscles and improves sleep. Cupping and Chinese Herbal linaments are often part of the treatment, too.
Why Does My Neck Hurt?
Anatomy Versus the Nervous System
Some people are more prone to neck pain than others. This can be a function of either anatomy or the nervous system. Some people have naturally weaker joints that are poorly supported by the ligaments, fascia and muscles, and other people have naturally tighter muscles, often associated with a tendency towards tension and intensity or difficulty relaxing and letting go.
But the biggest factor in the creation of neck pain is ergonomics. We do so many repetitive tasks in the modern world that exceed the design specs for our necks and bodies in general. In the case of the neck our heads are so often in “forward translation”, which means bent forward and down. This happens because we spend so much time reading–from books to texting to working at the computer. And then we watching television laying down on the sofa. We drive in cars and sit in front of a computer which places our arms and shoulders forward along with our heads. All of these factors dramatically increases our risk for developing neck and shoulder pain. So figuring out proper posture, and being aware of posture is vital for preventing and treating Neck Pain.
Where We Carry Stress in our Body
The neck is one of the most flexible, but also delicate, parts of the body. Through the day we can put stress on our necks without even noticing it. This leads to stiffness, chronic dull achey pain, intense burning pain, headache pain, and limited movement in the neck and even shoulders and arms.
All of us tend to carry stress in our faces, neck, and shoulders. This is why we love neck and shoulder massage. And every time we rush and do things as if they are an emergency, every time we perform under pressure to meet your deadline, every time we are running late, our necks, shoulders, face, and scalp tighten up.
When you laying on the beach in Hawaii with your high hop craft beer, having a fabulous vacation with people you love, your muscles tend to relax. On the other hand, when you are frustrated, stressed out, maybe a little bit pissed off, your body neck, face, and shoulders tighten up. Your knees are fine! That’s because as it says in Chinese Medicine, “anger makes the Qi rise.” Anger here does not only mean actual anger, but all the variations on the spectrum from intensity and drive to irritability and frustration, all the way to full on anger. The first place to tighten up with this nervous system spectrum is the base of the neck, the space between the shoulder blades, the neck and shoulders.
Dietary factors in developing neck pain involves a diet high in foods that cause inflammation, such as simple sugars and excessive carbs. Coffee is also a poor choice if you have neck pain, especially if you have tension headaches, because it ramps up your nervous system increasing muscle tension…
Specific Causes of Neck Pain
Bending or hunching forward for long periods can cause strains of the muscles, tendons, and fascia. This kind of pain is often chronic, meaning of long duration. We put up with this kind of pain until we can’t take it anymore. This kind of pain involves tightness and restricted blood flow. Acupuncture, dry needling, massage, and chiropractic can all relieve this kind of pain.
Strains are painful micro-tears in the muscles, tendons, and fascia, associated with tightness. This can happen from sitting in front of the computer, the television, driving for long periods, reading in bed, even talking on the phone for long periods. Another postural cause of neck pain occurs when you sleep in an awkward position. When that happens you will wake up in the morning with severe pain and stiffness.
Motor Vehicle Accidents
A major cause of acute neck pain (sudden onset, vs. chronic, which is long term) are traffic accidents, leading to whiplash and cervical or thoracic sprain and strain. Sprains are microtears in the ligaments that hold bones together, whereas strains are micro-tears in the tendons that attach muscles to the bone. Fascia is the connective tissue that runs like a spider web of sorts through the body, encasing organs and muscles. Fascia is elastic, and also prone to strain and contracture. Trigger points in the fascia and muscles become irritated with whiplash, so Dry Needling and acupuncture work very well here to relieve your pain.
Sports Injuries and Trauma
The most common athletic injury I see that involves the neck and shoulders is long distance bicycling. Serious bicycle riders are at risk of neck and shoulder pain from long periods leaned forward with the neck raised. This puts the muscles of the neck and shoulders into recruitment for a long period, a great way to develop trigger point pain. The good news? This kind of Trigger Point pain responds immediately to dry needling.
I also have seen people with neck pain from falls and occupational trauma, such as professional painters, electricians, and plumbers, who have to flex and extend their necks for long periods while heavily recruiting their shoulder, mid-back, and arm muscles. This leads to muscle strain and even ligament sprain. They are also prone to herniated or bulging discs.
Nearly everyone over 50 has some arthritis, and its very common as a cause of neck pain in older people. Our body’s natural reaction to pain is to cringe, so there can be a vicious cycle of joint inflammation and muscle tightening in response to the boney inflammatory process. TMJ most often causes jaw pain, but can also be associated with neck pain. Dry needling releases the muscles that tense up in response to the arthritis, relieving the trigger points in the muscles and creating more space for the bones to operate in. This relieves the pain from arthritis really well.
As stated above stress causes tightness in the face, jaw, scalp, neck, and shoulders that over time can lead to neck pain. This kind of stress related pain is generally more likely if you are a Type A personality, or, on the other hand if you are the kind of person who does not know how to stand up for yourself and internalize frustration and anger.
How Dry Needling for Neck Pain Helps
My goal as an acupuncturist is to treat the causes of disease, and not only the symptoms. But I have to start with the symptoms! And the symptom here is pain, stiffness, loss of mobility, and even the ability to carry out activities of daily living and fun recreational activities.
Dry Needling is a form of acupuncture that involves the knowledge of anatomy and the location of painful trigger points and motor points that command muscle tension. When you place an acupuncture needle into a trigger point this is called Dry Needling. That is because it is in opposition to the insertion of a drug substance like lidocaine into a trigger point.
Classical Chinese Acupuncture involves the knowledge of Chinese Medical and Acupuncture theory, so as to open the flow of Qi through the channels that pass through your area of pain. We also use our Acupuncture theory to address the nervous system causes of pain, when your pain is due to muscles and fascia that are tight in response to stress.
I use Dry Needling and Acupuncture for Neck Pain because because each system does something different. I use Dry Needling for neck pain to release the trigger points that are associated with tight muscles and fascia and that themselves are one cause of neck and shoulder pain. I use Classical Chinese Acupuncture also because our Acupuncture channel theory gives us a method to relax the muscle and relieve pain that is specific to the part of the neck where the pain is. This make the Dry Needling treatment more powerful.
Both Dry Needling and Acupuncture relax the muscles and fascia. Now your blood circulation to the area improves as the joints, ligaments, fascia, tendons, and muscles loosen. It feels really really good. Acupuncture also releases endorphins, natural opiates created in the brain that have a natural drug like effect to relieve your pain and also relax you. Acupuncture also stimulates cortisol, which acts as a natural anti-inflammatory, like cortisone, but without the risks and dangers of cortisone injections.
There have been so many studies on the efficacy of Dry Needling for Neck Pain and of Acupuncture, Dry Needling ,and Cupping for acute sports injuries, for whiplash, and for painful neck and spine conditions like herniated disc, arthritis, and stenosis. I wont list all the links here, but a quick google search will lead you to positive outcomes discussed in The British Journal of Rheumatology, 1998, British Medical Journal, 2001, and others.
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