Almost everyone will suffer from neck and/or shoulder pain at some point in their lives - modern-day life seems to be designed to cause it!  Most of us are constantly on the go, and under stress, which leads to muscular tension in general.  But the major junctions of the neck and shoulder will accumulate stagnation of Qi and Blood - from the Chinese medicine perspective - more than most other parts of the body.  Our heads are extremely heavy, and when we spend a lot of time hunched over a desk using a keyboard and mouse, we are asking a lot of the support muscles in the area.  Luckily acupuncture, tuina massage and other techniques like cupping can be very effective in reducing these problems, especially when combined with a few habit changes.  Switching to a standing desk, for example, can make a big difference.

what to expect from a treatment for neck and/or shoulder pain

As with almost any condition, sometimes there are factors involved that aren't obvious.  For example, diet can play a significant part in the development of physical pain - without enough of the correct nutrients, the sinews and fluids of the body can become dry and stiff, and mental/emotional problems like stress and anxiety can get worse.  Neck and shoulder pain are often one of the first warning signs that adjustments need to be made in a person's life, often in various areas.  So whenever possible I will try to establish whether there is anything other than a straightforward physical issue going on (this is harder in low-cost treatments due to time constraints - click here for more details).

Based on what I find, I'll try to give a treatment which addresses the main issues, but this will almost certainly include paying attention to the area of pain itself.  So, I often start with seated tuina massage (see below).  This gives me the chance to start the treatment, while at the same time assessing the landscape of the patient's body.  As I work with my thumbs around the muscles and tissues at the base of the skull, and down the sides of the spine (the Gallbladder and Bladder channels in Chinese medicine terminology), I make a mental note of any particularly tight or tender spots, or areas of weakness.

Tuina massage can be both a treatment and a diagnosis.

Tuina massage can be both a treatment and a diagnosis.

I will then often move the patient on to the treatment bench, and continue with more tuina massage, working on the gluteal muscles and the legs as well as the back.  One of the central concepts of tuina is that the whole channel must be opened and cleared, rather than just the area of pain.  For example, the Bladder channel runs the whole way from the head, down the back and the back of the legs, and into the outside of the feet (see below).  

An example of one of the channels of acupuncture - the Bladder channel.  When working on a neck problem, for example, the whole channel needs to be 'opened' rather than just concentrating on the area of pain.  This image is taken from www.amanualofacupuncture.com

An example of one of the channels of acupuncture - the Bladder channel.  When working on a neck problem, for example, the whole channel needs to be 'opened' rather than just concentrating on the area of pain.  This image is taken from www.amanualofacupuncture.com

I may also use fire cupping to encourage blood flow in the back, and to loosen tight muscles.  Again, this may not be in the primary area of pain, but it all helps to prepare the ground for the more specific treatment to come.

Fire cupping involves creating a vacuum in a glass cup by briefly putting a flame inside it, then placing it on the skin and either leaving it in place, or sliding it with the use of oil.

Fire cupping involves creating a vacuum in a glass cup by briefly putting a flame inside it, then placing it on the skin and either leaving it in place, or sliding it with the use of oil.

Sometimes I will already have inserted needles whilst using the tuina/cupping, and on other occasions I will wait until I have really opened things up.  Again, I will rarely only use needles in the main area of pain, but will add 'distal' points in the arms and hands/legs and feet.  The number of needles, and the strength of the stimulation will always depend on the individual situation.  I often like to end with some gentle, relaxing tuina, as these treatments can be quite demanding and the sensations strong.  However, the results are very often worth it.

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