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It's a pain in the neck

Updated: Dec 6, 2022


If you are reading this blog (and even if you weren’t) I’d be pretty safe in guessing that you have experienced neck pain of some sort over the years.

It’s a common hindrance and a regular complaint that crops up in clinic, often alongside other health issues because sadly neck pain is one of those pesky problems that we do tend to ignore hoping it’ll magically go away.

Neck pain can catch us off guard, it's can be sudden and the initial pain can be quite acute. The problem can lie in the fact that neck pain can then ease off to a manageable (ignorable) level. When caught at the acute stage, neck pain can be very effectively treated within a short period of time. What happens more often than not though is this acute pain eases slightly and then is left unresolved. This can lead to a chronic condition which can be accompanied by stiffness, radiating pain and headaches.



Treatment strategies for neck pain will vary depending on the root cause of the pain and other factors that may be involved. In this blog we are going to explore some of the different types of neck pain and the treatments that can assist along with some prevention techniques for long term spinal health support.


Have you ever woken up with a stiff painful neck?

What is it?

This is the one that you wake up with. It seemingly appears out of nowhere and results in acute stiffness and the inability to turn your head. Usually, you will find wry neck pain is more severe on one side and any movement can be extremely painful. You may also experience spasms of pain that radiate out to the top of the neck / base of the skull and travel down the shoulder blade.

When does this occur?

Most commonly a wry neck appears after a poor night’s sleep or from sleeping in an unusual position or different bed. It can also stem from an unusual activity or body movement and occasionally from a sudden jolt type impact / injury.

What is the TCM diagnosis?

Stagnation of Qi and Blood. Wind -Cold Invasion

How can Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine assist?

Scott would be aiming to resolve the stagnation by promoting movement of the Qi and Blood. We would introduce warm to alleviate localized pain and stiffness in the area. This can be achieved with Acupuncture, Moxibustion and Cupping.


What is it?

It is common to experience a light headed sensation or an unbalanced feeling with whiplash.

A whiplash is an injury is the result of a sudden and forceful change of movement causing the head to jolt back and forth in a whip like motion. Whiplash involves sharp pain that worsens with movement. It’s also common to experience unsteadiness and light headedness due to the shakeup your system has experienced. Whiplash results in damage to the soft tissue of the neck and back. This inflammation can result in chronic pain for people who do not have immediate and effective treatment.

When does it occur?

Car accidents are the most common culprit for whiplash however this neck injury can occur with other sudden jolt like incidents, like an bang to the head that causes the neck to move in the whip like motion.

What is the TCM diagnosis?

When we experience a whiplash injury the Qi and Blood to be disturbed and ceases to flow smoothly resulting in stagnation. Where there is stagnation there is pain. When patients are experiencing chronic neck pain after an unresolved whiplash injury, we expect to not only find Qi and Blood stagnation and deficiency but also other underlying imbalances to the Kidney and Liver systems due to extended Qi stagnation. These imbalances may present as chronic pain, fatigue, poor concentration and dizziness and treatment to resolve may be more involved and longer term than in acute cases.

How can Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine assist?

If a patient is able to access treatment in the early stages of a whiplash injury, we would expect to see improvement quickly. Acupuncture, Cupping and Moxa can be utilised to encourage correct optimal flow of Qi and Blood through the affected area and to alleviate inflammation and pain. In acute cases Scott would often recommend that Acupuncture is used in conjunction with Chiropractic care. This way a Chiropractor can ensure structural integrity of the body while acupuncture can get the Qi and Blood flowing.


How do you hold your body during times of stress?

What is it?

The phrase “it’s a pain in the neck” has a huge amount of truth to it! Consider how you hold your body in times of stress. We stiffen, we draw inwards, our shoulders raise, our back can hunch, our jaw clenches. As tension builds up in the shoulders due to stress neck pain is experienced, often along with referred headaches and shoulder pain.

When does it occur?

Traditional Chinese Medicine draws clear parallels between our emotions and their role in our experience of pain, poor health, and dis-ease. The experience of anxiety and stress weighs heavily on our Liver system. The Liver governs the smooth flow of Qi and Blood. If your Liver system is unhappy then this will impact the movement of your Qi. Traditional Chinese Medicine interpret the experience of pain as the result of stagnant Qi. So, as you can see where we have stress, tension or anxiety and our Liver is disturbed the result is pain.

What is the TCM diagnosis?

Liver Qi stagnation (shock horror) is one common result with additional deficiencies depending on each individuals underlying emotions at play.

How can Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine assist?

Acupuncture has the wonderful side effect of eliciting a relaxation response. As it works to nourish the Qi to promote Qi flow it has also been shown to lower blood pressure and slow the patient’s heart rate. This aids in restoring energy and alleviating stress. For best results it is essential to identify the root cause of your stress and address lifestyle and dietary factors that may be exacerbating things.


Osteo arthritis is typically associated with body changes that occur when we age.

What is it?

Osteoarthritis (OA) is a chronic degenerative disorder of the joints, and the neck unfortunately is one of the commonly affected areas. The development of OA in the joints of the neck results in neck pain, headache and occasionally even irritation of the nerves which can result in radiating pain down the arms.

When does it occur?

Osteoarthritis is usually found in adults over the age of 40 and is associated with bodily changes that come with ageing. It is typically caused by the breakdown of the rubbery material called cartilage that eases the friction in between your joints.

What is the TCM diagnosis?

When considering OA from a Traditional Chinese Medicine angle it is a form of Bi Syndrome. Bi Syndrome in Western Medicine would be associated with joint pain and is characterized by the obstruction of Qi and Blood in the meridians. There can be a variety of root causes for Bi Syndrome including Yin or Yang deficiency, Spleen deficiency and Blood deficiency. All these present slightly differently and treatment would of course be tailored to the underlying root cause.

How can Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine assist?

Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine would be use Acupuncture, along with a variety of other TCM techniques including herbal medicine to resolve stasis, remove damp, correct Qi deficiencies, and rectify any other underlying imbalances. Exploring dietary influences and potential changes to lifestyle would ensure long term successful results.


Tech neck or text neck is a real issue only worsening as the years go on.

What is it?

Hello ‘text neck’! I’m sure you all know what I mean! Any Chiropractor reading this will be nodding along right now. We all share concern about the average individual’s posture and spine health these days. So many are desk or vehicle bound for their working day. Because of these sedentary roles we spend minimal time moving and assume a slumped and poorly supported curve whilst at work. Even for those who are lucky enough to have a more active working role are likely to fall victim to periods of poor posture from our new technology driven lives where our smart phone is now an extension of our body.

When does it occur?

With long term poor posture, particularly the head position of staring down at your mobile phone neck pain is inevitable. Sitting for prolonged periods at a desk or in a car or holding your head in an unnaturally craned forward position puts a great deal of additional strain on the neck and its supporting joints and muscles. The weight of your head the further forward your carriage is astronomical, and the consequence is extremely uncomfortable.

How can Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine assist?

Once again combining Acupuncture with Chiropractic Care will ensure optimal outcomes. There is a great deal of structural assessment and adjustment that will be required for long term benefit. A Chiropractor can ensure that your bones are sitting where they should be (acupuncture is amazing but we can’t move bones!) and they will no doubt also provide some great exercises that you can practice at home to help counter the forward carriage and slumping of our shoulders that has come with the tech age. Acupuncture and TCM techniques can work alongside this manual therapy to alleviate inflammation and pain from poor Qi circulation and stagnation.



Traditional Chinese Medicine is made up of many different forms of therapy including Acupuncture, Cupping, Herbal Medicine, Tui Na, Gua Sha and Moxibustion. Below you can read how some of these therapies may be useful in the support of neck pain recovery.


"You can walk to the lightbulb, or you can flick the switch. We needle where the switch would be.”

This is one of our favorite magic tricks. Distal means ‘situated away from the center of the body of from the point of attachment’. This means that we place the needles away from the localized area of pain. Ideal because sometimes the mere thought of a needle where it hurts causes undue stress and anxiety. It’s truly fascinating that when using Distal Acupuncture, we can illicit the desired response from the Qi, a wonderful party trick if some needles in your leg help your arm move smoothly and without pain!

Distal Acupuncture has been practiced for over 2500 years and is known by many names. You may have heard it referred to as The Balance Method, I-Ching Method or Distal Point Acupuncture. A wonderful description of the workings of the Distal method of acupuncture is from Dr Richard Tan who said something along the lines of “you can walk to the lightbulb, or you can flick the switch. We needle where the switch would be.”

The beauty of the Distal method is the ability for the patient to mobilize the area of discomfort whilst the needles are in place. Allowing us to monitor the response that the needles are having in real time, noting any decrease in pain immediately.

If you have avoided Acupuncture as a means of treatment for injury or pain in the past because you felt unsure or uncomfortable about localized treatment, then seeking out a Practitioner that is able to treat you with Distal Acupuncture would certainly be beneficial.


Tui na originated in China is thought to be the oldest system of bodywork.

Tui na is a form of Chinese massage. Scott will often incorporate Tui na into his treatments to complement the work of the acupuncture. Tui na originated in China is thought to be the oldest system of bodywork. It’s very similar in principle to acupuncture targeting the acupuncture points with fingers and massage rather than needles. It can be a strong yang dynamic deep tissue treatment using palpating, kneading, and pushing motions or a gentler yin style of treatment depending on the individual patient needs. Tui nah uses acupressure techniques, joint mobilisation, stretching, myofascial release and reflexology.

As with Acupuncture the main focus of Tui Na is to remove stagnant blocks and achieve optimal Qi movement around the body.


Gua Sha can sometimes result in red skin colouration called ‘sha’.

Gua Sha an ancient Chinese practice. To practice gua sha an angled stone or tool is used to repeatedly rhythmically rub or scrape the skins surface. This rubbing action releases the trapped heat. It also promotes better blood flow, circulation, and energy redirection. Gua Sha has recently become very popular in cosmetic circles however the treatment of neck pain was one of is most common original applications. When being utilized for the treatment of neck pain gua sha is applied locally to the painful area, this promotes the blood circulation and Qi movement which is extremely effective at relieving pain.

The treatment is usually brief and used in conjunction with other TCM therapies. This is a great technique that is gentle, and non-invasive. In fact, we use on both ourI paediatric and adult patients. Gua Sha is a common ‘homework’ task for patients and a great way to continue treatment at home between appointments.

Gua Sha can sometimes result in red skin colouration called ‘sha’. The Sha can resemble a bruise or rash. This localized colouring is a positive sign that the scraping is helping to release heat toxin, move blood and invigorate Qi. The colour can vary in depth and tends to only last 2-4 day at most.


Cupping involves a vacuum like suction being created on the skin using a cup.

Cupping involves a vacuum like suction being created on the skin using a cup. This short period of suction typically applied in the localized area of pain serves to warm the channels and draw out cold. Cups that are used are either a silicone suction cup or a glass cup heated by fire to create suction. It can be an odd sensation but is not painful and is extremely effective and certainly something we would incorporate for upper back and neck pain. The suction promotes muscle tension release, improved blood flow, Qi movement and toxin release reducing inflammation and pain.

Like the Gua Sha, when the cupping draws out the heat and toxins and moves stagnation you might find there is some skin colouration that resembles bruising where the cups have been placed. Once again this is a positive sign that the blood and Qi is moving, and it is not painful. The colour generally fades within 2-4 days.


Pictured is Scott applying moxa cones in clinic at Red Bridge

Moxibustion therapy is a gentle, relaxing heat therapy that has been used for thousands of years and is particularly common in Japanese medicine. It is something Scott incorporates into most of his clinic sessions at Red Bridge. Moxabustion is the process of burning the dried herb mugwort, referred to as moxa, over the skin to activate the acupuncture points through heat stimulation. The heat and herbal properties of the moxa warms the channels stimulating the flow of Qi to the area which in turn encourages blood flow and healing.

Moxa comes in a variety of forms and the therapy itself has many styles and applications. At Red Bridge you may encounter moxa in the following forms:

Needle Head Moxa or Kyutoshin is a Japanese Moxibustion technique where a small ball of the herb mugwort (moxa) is added to the head of the needle and lit.

The Moxa Stick is long cigar shaped stick is made of compacted mugwort and is probably the most well recognised form of moxibustion due to its convenience for home use.

A Tiger Warmer is a thin metal device which carries a stick of moxa inside.

Moxa Cones are shaped from loose moxa and applied to the points. This can either be direct – moxa is placed directly to the skin and removed before it burns down or indirect where the moxa cone may rest on a base of ginger, garlic, herbs, or salt.

Rice grain moxa or Tonetskyu uses a high-grade moxa rolled into tiny ‘worms’ which are applied directly to the skin.

A Tiger warmer is a thin metal device which carries a stick of moxa inside. The tiger warmer can then be rubber and pressed over the skins surface to stimulate and warm the acupuncture points.

The Moxa box is an excellent way of applying heat to larger areas.


Diode rings are particularly effective at aiding in the relief of inflammation, reduction of swelling, treatment of bruises, and aiding healing of bone and ligament issues.

According to Traditional Chinese medicine, our energy travels around our bodies via pathways called meridians. When we treat imbalances with acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine, we are working to restore optimal energy flow along those meridians.

A diode is an electrical component that conducts electricity in one direction only. The Diode rings work with the ion flow of the body to produce an optimal healing current. They can be applied locally or on the finger or toes for a distal treatment.

The rings deliver a micro stimulation to manipulate stagnant energy which is a common cause of pain and imbalance. By stimulating the skin and underlying tissue they assist in improving the flow of energy around the body. Diode rings are particularly effective at aiding in the relief of inflammation, reduction of swelling, treatment of bruises, and aiding healing of bone and ligament issues.


We have several great liniments and patches that Scott uses regularly in clinic at Red Bridge when treating pain.


The Salonpas Patches are great for long lasting relief of muscular cramps and spasm. They are infused with herbs and essential oils and provide localized warmth to an affected area for up to 1-2 days.

Trans Wood Lock Liniment is quite a hot liniment that can be very therapeutic for arthritic and muscular pain. It is the warmest of the three liniments that I use and may not be suitable for all patients depending on their presentation.

Zheng Gu Shui Liniment is the ‘liquid gold’ of the liniment selection and most used and purchased. It’s brilliant both as a pre training liniment to encourage blood flow to areas that are prone to injury or discomfort and as a treatment for muscle ache and arthritic pain.

Po Sum On Oil is not only great for sore muscles, sprains, and strains but also useful in the treatment of chest soreness from bronchial cough.

Eagle Brand Oil moves and regulates Liver Qi. Great for arthritis, rheumatism, strains, sprains.

These herbal liniments all have different combinations of ingredients meaning that depending on the patient’s overall pattern and presentation one may be more suitable that the other. They bring relief by warming the area of pain and encouraging blood flow to the area which in turn promotes healing and comfort. They are a great way of supporting healing between Acupuncture appointments.



When a neck injury or incident is dealt with during the acute stage, we can expect recovery to be straightforward and long lasting. When we treat neck pain, ensuring we are understanding the root cause is essential to optimal recovery and long-term care. The difficult cases evolve from injuries that have been left untreated for long periods of time.

In cases of neck pain where an injury has been left untreated to become chronic or if lifestyle factors such as stress, sleep, diet and physical activity are involved then it is critical that all these factors are explored. When imbalances impact other body systems then for full health to be restored not only the pain needs to be addressed but the root cause and subsequent deficiencies or excesses that are being experienced.

There are so many wonderful therapies that complement Traditional Chinese Medicine in the treatment of pain. We are avid supporters and users of Chiropractic care to address structural and mechanical disorders of the musculoskeletal system. Other modalities we love and also use regularly ourselves for additional yang body work and muscle release are Osteotherapy, Physiotherapy, Shiatsu and Remedial Massage. For long term health support we encourage our patients to look into Exercise Physiology, Yoga or Pilates which all promote core stability and strength.

Our Qi needs to move. This means incorporating stretching and gentle movement will be an important part of your recovery. This may take the form of home based practice with movements that myself of one of your other health professionals provide you or you may like to explore Yoga, Qi Gong, Tai Chi or Pilates with an instructor that can cater to any current or past injuries.

Please click on our website link for a list of local providers that we know will be more than suitable to support you on your journey to health.

Incorporating gentle movement like yoga or pilates can be a great way to keep your neck healthy and happy

If you would like to chat with us about how we can help you with neck pain please get in touch via our website or by calling us on (03)59061494.

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