Neck and shoulder tension and pain is by a landslide the most common injury we treat at our clinic. We use many different techniques to help alleviate neck and shoulder pain/tension including acupuncture, gua sha, fire cupping, moxibustion, and massage. Most people have suffered from neck and shoulder pain at some point in their lives. From a mild ache to debilitating pain, the issue seems to be on the rise with the current “situation” and work demands.

Do you have “knots” on your shoulders? Does your neck get a kink from long hours at the computer or watching Netflix on your phone? You’re not alone. We literally needle and grind out thousands of these treatments; it’s such a common reason people seek care. Without shoulders, we wouldn’t make a living. You get the idea. Over the years, we’ve gotten pretty good at it too! We’d like to share with you the reasons we get neck/shoulder pain and how we treat it at Acupuncture Center Toronto. We’ll also provide you with a few ways in which you can help yourself loosen up this over-burdened part of the body safely at home if you aren’t ready to come into the Center quite yet.

Our tools for releasing and loosening the neck and shoulders

Acupuncture – We will assess which part of the cervical spine, lateral neck and shoulder joint we should focus on the most. By using acupuncture points we zone in on the knots and treat areas locally We also systemically follow the affected blocked energy pathways known as meridians and use famous time tested and true empirical neck and shoulder points to relieve pain. Pain will diminish. Get ready for mobility and range of motion to increase.

Fire Cupping –Scatter pain in the rhomboids with bigger cups. Smaller cups or tiny facial cups are used on the neck to get rid of nagging stiff pain. According to Chinese Medicine cupping releases stagnation (tension) by increasing blood flow to the neck and shoulders.

Cupping techniques used on the shoulders

    1. Sliding cupping- We can slide the cups with oil like a massage. We often will follow the scapula and upper shoulders. This feels absolutely amazing.
    2. Stationary cupping- Where the cups are retained and left on one or more spots to increase circulation. Generally, the darker the mark the cup leaves the more stagnation there is. The darker the circles, the more your body needed cupping!

Our tools for releasing and loosening the neck and shoulders

Acupuncture – We will assess which part of the cervical spine, lateral neck and shoulder joint we should focus on the most. By using acupuncture points we zone in on the knots and treat areas locally We also systemically follow the affected blocked energy pathways known as meridians and use famous time tested and true empirical neck and shoulder points to relieve pain. Pain will diminish. Get ready for mobility and range of motion to increase.

Fire Cupping –Scatter pain in the rhomboids with bigger cups. Smaller cups or tiny facial cups are used on the neck to get rid of nagging stiff pain. According to Chinese Medicine cupping releases stagnation (tension) by increasing blood flow to the neck and shoulders.

Cupping techniques used on the shoulders

    1. Sliding cupping- We can slide the cups with oil like a massage. We often will follow the scapula and upper shoulders. This feels absolutely amazing.
    2. Stationary cupping- Where the cups are retained and left on one or more spots to increase circulation. Generally, the darker the mark the cup leaves the more stagnation there is. The darker the circles, the more your body needed cupping!

Gua Sha

Also known as “scraping”. Gua sha is done by repeatedly sliding a stone over the same area on the shoulders or neck we create redness and petechiae which breaks down stagnation/tension in the muscles to allow more qi and blood flow to the area. Think of it as the original fascial release. We often use Gua Sha between the shoulder blades and the back of neck. Very relieving.

Bodywork

Acupressure/Tuina/Shiatsu- by using hands, elbows, fingers we can use different techniques to find knots or “ashi” (tender points) and massage them to alleviate pain. Who doesn’t love a little neck and shoulder massage?

Acupuncture for neck and shoulders at Acupuncture Center Toronto

Moxibustion

Moxibustion (also known as “moxa”) is a healing technique that helps break down pain and warms the body. It is like an injection of energy to a specific point which can break down blockages and encourage qi and blood flow. We light a herb over paste on the shoulders with an incense stick and voila. Moxa is wonderous for quickly dissipating pain in the neck and shoulders. Moxa in 5 minutes accomplishes what 20 minutes of massage does. We use it often in the clinic because it works so well!

Moxibustion for shoulder pain and tension at Acupuncture Center Toronto

Causes of neck and shoulder pain/tension

In the past year the incidence of neck and shoulder pain has been on the rise. Due to the Pandemic, the majority of the population have moved to working from home. Ergonomic (healthy posture) work set ups at offices has been lost and forgotten. We find our patients telling us that they are now sitting at kitchen tables, couches, or makeshift “offices” has taken over. Long hours, with less work-life separation has led to increase in stress levels. Not to mention everyone’s personal struggles with COVID-19 affecting impacting our lives in uniquely challenging ways. Shoulder and neck tension has increased in frequency and intensity. We’d like to share the mechanisms of how this happens and how to help it.

TOP CAUSES OF NECK AND SHOULDER PAIN/TENSION

  • Sitting for long periods of time
  • Mobile devices (text neck)
  • Lack of movement, or too much!!
  • Stress
  • Lack of exercise
  • Not enough water
  • Poor posture
  • Improper Breathing
  • Aging
  • Repetitive strain
  • Poor form when exercising
  • Lack of stretching
  • Concussions
  • Motor vehicle accidents (MVA’s)

The top three professions to have this problem are

  1. Office workers
  2. Manual workers
  3. Health Care workers

According to the Global Burden of Disease Study, neck pain ranks as the 4th leading cause of disability, behind back pain, depression and arthralgias.
Over the course of a lifetime, 50% of the population will experience neck pain. With those odds, let’s find out why this happens and how to stop it.

Chinese Medicine explanation of neck and shoulder pain made easy

Our bodies were designed to move. When sitting for long hours, circulation (or Qi/energy) gets stuck and doesn’t flow as efficiently. This is made worse by the tendency to have poor posture sitting and is compounded by stress from work. All these things are a perfect storm for “QI” (the energy flowing through the meridians) to get stagnated. Stagnation can be equated to what we feel as “knots” or ‘kinks” in our shoulders/neck. Knots are clumped together tissue called adhesion.

Adhesion is sticky unhealthy tendons and muscles from injury or posture clumping together to form scar tissue in our neck and shoulders.

When QI stagnates (or we have knots) there is a feeling of tension, tightness, stiffness and pain. That’s why after sitting for long periods (not to mention starring at a screen) there isn’t proper energy flow to our heads, arms and limbs. With this poor energy “Qi” flow in the upper part of our bodies near our heads, we become foggy, unable to focus, hands and arms can become cold, tingle or become numb.

Neck and shoulder pain often go together as most of the head and neck muscles attach through the shoulders and back.
In Chinese Medicine many of the energy pathways which we call Meridians pass through the shoulder and neck. When you see an Acupuncturist, we see the body both in terms of muscles and the associated energy pathways that are associated with the neck and shoulders.

DID YOU KNOW?

  • Many headaches and migraines are due to tight neck and shoulder muscles
  • Radiating arm pain, tingling, and abnormal hot/cold sensations in the arm is often caused by tight neck and shoulders
  • Anger and emotional stress can tighten your shoulders

Quick Tips to STOP neck and shoulder pain dead in its tracks

Neck and shoulder stretches as part of care at Acupuncture Center Toronto

Here I am showing a patient how to safely stretch the front of her shoulder joint. Easy. It helped her prevent a frozen shoulder.

  • Gentle stretching
  • Heat
  • Heating pad
  • Shower
  • Bath
  • Ball rolling- roll on tennis ball or golf ball against a wall
  • Rest
  • Acupuncture
  • Ergonomic assessment of your work set-up- with more folks working from home, make sure your screen is at eye level. Also make sure your chair is conducive to comfortable posture that doesn’t add more strain. Mouse should be close. Use a track pad for any neck shoulder issue that involves pain in the arm wrist- graphic designers we’re looking at you!

PREVENTATIVE MEASURES

  • Get up every hour from your computer
  • Limit your online time (both on the computer AND mobile phone)
  • Be aware of your posture when using your devices
  • Stretch and exercise daily. Even if it’s just for a bit of time each day.
  • Drink lots of water
  • Remember to breath deep belly breaths: great for all kinds of pain

Masunaga one of the inventors of shiatsu therapy once said, a therapist who can cure shoulder issues is a great therapist. Thanks Masunaga, we agree and do this successfully every day at the Center. We are here to tackle the gnarliest shoulders. Hopefully you can use these tips so you don’t get to that point. But if you do, we’re up for the task; we welcome you to be the biggest pain in the neck we’ve ever treated. Come chill with us.

By Camille Greenstein R. Ac

Camille is an experienced therapist at the Center. She is one of our busiest Acupuncturists (often with a waitlist). She’s treated thousands of neck and shoulder cases. Camille’s eclectic body-centered professional experience has given her a leading edge. As a professional dancer, high-caliber aerial circus performer, yoga instructor, AND personal trainer- Camille understands the body and knows how to fix your neck and shoulders. Her career at the Acupuncture Center Toronto is nothing less than a power practice. Yet she’s always humble and ready to help. Her fiercely loyal patients often patiently wait their turn for her sought-after sessions. Click here to book an appointment with Camille