There are a number of causes of neck pain, including trauma, turning and reaching at the same time, drafts, and bad ergonomics. However, the most common cause of neck pain, however, is stress. Most people who are overwhelmed and under a lot of stress will tell you that the physical manifestation of their stress is tightness, muscle knots, and pain in their neck and upper back. This has been the case since caveman times, when our furry ancestors raised the hackles on their neck in threatening situations. While a cranky boss, looming deadline, or a failing relationship isn’t the same as the threat of being eaten, your body still reacts in the same way, resulting in a tight, stiff neck.
In Chinese medicine, your stiff neck is a classic case of stagnation. This simply means that the tightness in your upper back and neck create a slowdown in the circulation of blood and energy in the area. In addition, as your neck becomes tight and painful, the pain can move upward causing headaches, tooth grinding, and jaw pain; or it can move downward and cause back pain and tightness.
The antidote to neck pain in Chinese medicine is acupuncture, which works in two ways. It can help relieve the pain and tightness in your neck by increasing the circulation of blood and energy, and it can also help to relieve stress.
You should check with your Western doctor if your neck pain is accompanied by confusion, fever, or drowsiness. Also, if your neck pain radiates into your arms or hands, or if you feel numbness or tingling, it may be the sign that a disk is injured and should also be checked out.
Some things you can do on your own to help relieve your neck pain include:
- Get some heat on it. Take a warm shower, use a heating pad, warm rice bag, or a towel soaked in hot water. By putting heat on your neck, you are increasing the circulation, loosening tight muscles, and enhancing your range of motion.
- Increase your flexibility. After you have warmed up your stiff neck, move your head up and down as if you were nodding yes. Then slowly move your head from side to side as if you were saying no. Tilt your head, moving your ear toward your shoulder on each side. These stretches will help increase your range of motion, but remember, don’t do anything that is intensely painful.
- Sleep on it. Sleep on your back with a pillow under your knees. This helps you maintain the natural curvature of your spine, and will help you avoid sleeping on your side, which can aggravate a stiff neck.
- Hold the phone. Keep the phone off of your shoulder. If you’re on the phone a lot at work, get a headset or hold the phone with your hand.
- Take a break. If you’re on your computer all day, make sure you take regular breaks to get up, stretch, and walk around.
- Eyes forward. Make sure that your work station is ergonomically correct. This means that you shouldn’t have to look sideways to see your computer screen, look downward all day long, or be sitting in an uncomfortable position.
- Stay away from drafts. Cold air blowing on your neck can be an underlying cause of a stiff neck. Avoid sleeping in a draft, and be sure to wear a scarf on cool, cold and windy days.
- Get some acupuncture. In most cases, your stiff neck will be gone in a few days. However, acupuncture can be extremely helpful in speeding up the healing process.
- In TCM, we also recommend you to do cupping with acupuncture and massage together to help reduce the pain more efficiently.