Acupuncture for Neck & Shoulder Pain

Neck and shoulder pain are among the most common issues I see in my practice. The good news is that acupuncture with cupping usually relieves these symptoms from the first visit.

Image of woman massaging her neck.
Acupuncture soothes neck and shoulder pain.

Many people who come to acupuncture for help with other issues also experience welcome relief from pain and stress when I do acupuncture and cupping on their neck and shoulders.

Stress causes us to involuntarily contract the muscles of our neck, shoulders and jaw, so it’s common for shoulder, neck and jaw pain to act up when we’re going through stressful times in our lives. Plus, many of us work at least part of our day hunched over a computer and have chronic muscle tension in our neck and shoulders from that.

Acupuncture and cupping relaxes your neck and shoulder muscles, and decreases stress and anxiety. When our shoulder muscles are relaxed, our mind follows. Additionally, acupuncture naturally balances the neurotransmitter chemicals that calm and relax us mentally and emotionally.

For best results, I recommend my clients plan to come in for six once-a-week treatments. After that, they usually come in for treatments less frequently – monthly or whenever they have a flare up – to keep their neck and shoulders relaxed and feeling good.

anatomical image of brachial plexus
Constriction of the brachial plexus nerves can cause pain and tingling in the arm and hand.

If you have neck and shoulder pain with numbness or tingling in your hands, your doctor might call it Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. The thoracic outlet is a narrow passage on the front of your shoulder, between your clavicle (collarbone) and first rib. Thoracic Outlet Syndrome (TOS) refers to symptoms caused by the compression of a bundle of nerves called the brachial plexus, which runs through the thoracic outlet from the back of the neck to the collarbone and armpit. The muscles in the neck and shoulders tense up when we are stressed, and this constriction can press on these nerves, causing nerve tingling and pain further down in the arms and hands.

Symptoms of TOS are sometimes mistaken for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Neurogenic (or nerve compression) TOS is the most common form, but compression of veins and arteries in this area is called Vascular TOS, and causes similar symptoms. Medical treatment for TOS consists of physical therapy, pain medications, anti-inflammatory medications or muscle relaxants, and surgery.

Self-care for shoulder pain. My top 3 self-care tips for TOS are stretching, heat and magnesium.
     Stretching. There are lots of great stretches and yoga poses you can find by googling “stretch TOS.” You can also think about doing the opposite of your usual hunched-over posture: shoulders back, head up and looking at the ceiling. Do this frequently while you are at your desk.
     Heat. Anybody who tends to have shoulder tightness and pain can make good use of a heat pack that drapes over their shoulders, and that you can heat up in the microwave.
     Magnesium. Magnesium relaxes the muscles, and is best absorbed through the skin. Epsom salts are magnesium salt – hot baths with Epsom salts are a great way to relax your whole body. You can also find magnesium oil at your local health food store and apply topically to tight shoulders. (Mama Jean’s carries several magnesium oil products.)

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