Shoulder/Neck Pain and Acupuncture

Shoulder and Neck Pain Causes

Your neck and shoulders contain muscles, bones, nerves, arteries, and veins, as well as many ligaments and other supporting structures. Many conditions can cause pain in the neck and shoulder area. Some are life threatening (such as heart attack and major trauma), and others are not so dangerous (such as simple strains or contusions). The most common cause of shoulder pain and neck pain is injury to the soft tissues including the muscles, tendons, and ligaments within these structures. Keeping your head in an awkward position can cause your neck muscles to fatigue, circulation in the tissues to diminish, and the joints to "lock" in place. This is a very common occurrence in office workers who sit in front of a computer and type for extensive periods of time. Trauma can cause a "whiplash" syndrome, with the muscles in your neck going into permanent spasm and causing pain and a limited range of motion. Constant stress is also a common factor in neck/shoulder stiffness and pain. Being under constant stress causes the sympathetic nervous system to become hypersensitive, like always being in the "flight or fight" mode. As many of us tend to "hold" much of our stress in the upper body, neck and shoulders, this can cause constant muscle spasm, a corresponding lack of circulation and nutrition to the tissues, leading to neck and shoulder pain and stiffness. Degenerative arthritis of the spine in the neck (cervical spine) can pinch nerves that can cause both neck pain and shoulder pain. Degenerative disc disease in the neck (cervical spondylosis) can cause local neck pain. Abnormal conditions involving the spinal cord, heart, lungs, and some abdominal organs also can cause neck and shoulder pain.

Acupuncture for shoulder and neck pain

Acupuncture is used as the first option and effective treatment for shoulder and neck pain in China. Many scientists have conducted a lot of research about anti-inflammation and pain relief function of acupuncture. The research has revealed that acupuncture can stimulate the body and the spinal cord to produce endorphin, which, in combination with the opiate receptor in the brain, can relieve pain effectively. When you put needles in certain places in the body, you will relieve the pressure oftentimes on a nerve such as a cranial nerve that affects the head. By relieving that pressure on a nerve, the muscles begin to relax, the blood begins to flow into an area, and pain is released partially through that mechanism and partially through the nervous system releasing endorphins and encephalins.

Research & Evidence

"Our study shows that acupuncture can be an effective treatment for chronic neck pain, if the objective is to relieve pain and to improve mobility to the cervical spine," said Dr Dominik Irnich of Ludwig-Maximilians University Germany He D, Hostmark AT, Veiersted KB, Medbo JI. Effect of intensive acupuncture on pain-related social and psychological variables for women with chronic neck and shoulder pain - an RCT with six month and three year follow up. Acupunct Med 2005; 23: 52-61.

This study examined whether or not intensive acupuncture treatment can improve several social and psychological variables for women with chronic pain in the neck and shoulders, and if possible effects are long lasting. The effects on pain have been reported elsewhere. Twenty-four female office workers who had had neck and shoulder pain for 3-21 years were randomly assigned to a test group or a control group. Acupuncture was applied 10 times during 3 to 4 weeks either at presumed acupuncture points for pain (test group) or at sham points (control group). In addition, massage was given to patients between treatments at either real or sham points. Questionnaires for social and psychological variables were completed before each treatment, just after the course and 6 months and 3 years later. The pain-related activity impairment at work was significantly less in the test group than the controls by the end of treatment. Also there were significant differences between the groups for quality of sleep, anxiety, depression and satisfaction with life. At 6 months and 3 years follow-ups the acupuncture group showed further improvements in most variables and was again significantly different from the control group.

Assisting Treatment

Acupressure/Chinese Medical Massage

Acupressure helps to relieve pressure in certain muscles or along certain nerves and then the body begins to relax and the blood flows correctly. It will shorten the course of treatment and increase the good curative effect.


Herbs help to maintain and enhance the effects of acupuncture in relieving spasm, local relaxation, stopping pain, calming and regulating the whole body. They also have anti-inflammatory effect. For inflammations in deeper tissues and joints, herbs are better in clearing inflammation than acupuncture alone.


Cupping affects the body’s tissue up to four inches deep. This causes tissue to release toxins, clears blockages, activates the lymphatic system and helps to clear the veins and arteries. Cupping is thought to be the best form of deep tissue massage available.

How long will the treatment take?

The frequency of treatment is a key element in achieving good results. In the UK, the patient can accept a treatment frequency of once or twice a week. Generally three to five treatments over a short period of time (2- 4 weeks) are sufficient to effect substantial results. In the acute stage one treatment every other day is administered. In the chronic stage one treatment per week is recommended. The preventive treatment is once a month.


Chinese acupuncture treatment is suitable for acute, sub-acute and chronic shoulder and neck pain, and it is particularly effective for inflammation cases. In Treatment, a combination of a number of Chinese acupuncture techniques should be used to achieve the best results during the treatment periods. Meanwhile, according to the individual conditions, adding Chinese herbal medicine may be necessary to achieve these best results.