Neck pain is a common condition — so common, in fact, that the expression "a pain in the neck" is an oft-used figure of speech in English.
It can be mild enough so that it is a mere annoyance, or severe enough that it can adversely affect the quality of one's life. Because of its position and range of motion, and because it plays a vital role in the support of the head, the neck is more subject to injury than any other portion of the spine. While it is much less frequent than back pain, neck pain can occasionally be severe enough to warrant attention from a licensed health professional.
Neck pain can have a variety of causes. Keeping your head in an awkward position can cause your neck muscles to fatigue and the joints in your neck to "lock" in place, causing discomfort, stiffness and limited range of motion. Neck pain can also be caused by a sudden force (such as an automobile accident), or a medical condition (swelling, disease, tumors, bleeding, inflammation, etc.). Some neck pain can also cause headaches (see the "Acupuncture for Headaches and Head Pain" section for more information).
Who suffers from neck pain?
Almost everyone will experience some sort of neck pain or stiffness during their lifetime; however, certain occupations appear to be predisposed to neck symptoms. Manual laborers, for instance, have more symptoms than office workers, and the type of work seems to affect the risk. A person's age and a history of twisting and bending during work can also contribute. Workers who have been required to do repetitive tasks with their upper extremities, or who undergo periods of prolonged sitting with their head in a flexed position (such as typing on a keyboard at a desk) are at risk of developing mechanical neck pain.
What can acupuncture do for neck pain?
Studies have shown acupuncture to be effective in relieving certain types of neck pain, particularly those caused by whiplash. Some studies suggest acupuncture can treat degenerative neck disorders such as ankylosing spondylosis and cervical spondylosis; in many cases, acupuncture has worked for patients whose conditions could not be solved using conventional approaches.
Acupressure and herbal medicine are sometimes used in conjunction with acupuncture for neck pain. Applying acupressure to the neck muscles can reduce spasm and lessen pain, leading to a relaxed state and a heightened sense of well-being. Depending on the patient's condition, certain herbal products can be used to improve circulation and blood flow and ease muscle contraction.