by Kai-Chang Chan
At one time or another, you’ve probably experienced the quick, sharp pain that accompanies a crick in the neck. These cricks happen suddenly, causing sharp pain when you turn your head to one side. The pain might even extend along the shoulder blade, making it painful to move your arm on the affected side. In my practice, I turn to Traditional Chinese Medicine can help identify the cause and fix the problem.
Head Position. A stiff neck may be caused by poor sleep position or an uncomfortable pillow height. Moving your head abruptly can also strain the trapezius muscle and affect the soft tissue in the neck.
Cold Temperatures. The problem tends to be more common in cooler environments, because the neck muscle will spasm more easily with changes in temperature. The cold penetrates the skin and muscle layers and stays in the neck, causing stiffness and pain.
Stress. People who are stressed and overworked tend to get a crick in the neck more often. Long-term use of computers, tablets or smartphones causes bad circulation in the neck muscles. Without regular exercise, blockage of Qi (energy) and blood circulation could worsen.
Cervical Disc Problems. Patients who experience neck pain along with decreased muscle reflex, numbness and arm weakness should see a specialist about possible cervical disc problems.
Relief and Prevention
Sometimes a stiff neck goes away on its own after rest. It normally takes three to seven days to recover and be pain-free. But if soft tissues do not heal completely, the problem is likely to come back. Acupuncture treatment promotes circulation, unblocks Qi and blood stagnation, relaxes muscles and stops pain to boost recovery and prevent recurring episodes.
For treatment, local acupuncture points are needled around the neck, behind the ears and on the upper back to relax the trapezius muscle. Distal acupuncture points have been used for thousands of years to help with cricked neck. These points include Luo Zhen point (EX-UE8) on the back of the hand, SI-3 on the ulnar side of the palm, and BL-40 on the back of the knee.
Cupping might also be applied on patients to relieve neck pain. This method has the same function as massage. It increases blood flow to the area and releases tight muscles.
Rest. Lie on your back and rest your neck muscles for 15 minutes every five hours during the day when you are in the acute phase. This gives your strained neck muscles the opportunity to relax and heal.
Ice. Ice packs help reduce swelling and pain for the first 24 to 48 hours.
Heat. After inflammation and swelling reduce, a heating pad or warm shower can soothe the tight muscles and promote blood flow to the area. Massage. Gently massage around the knot and stretch your neck in different directions to loosen up contracted muscles.
Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners also suggest keeping the neck warm in cold weather to decrease the chance of neck muscle spasm. Also, make sure your pillow is right for you and that your forehead and chin are at the same level when you sleep on your back.
Kai-Chang Chan, L. Ac., M.A.O.M, was born in Taiwan and teaches in the San Antonio classrooms of Texas Health and Science University. He is a practitioner at the new Acupuncture Health Clinic, 9240 Guilbeau Rd., 210-901-1234, www.acupuncturehealthsa.com. For more information about THSU classes in San Antonio and Austin, visit www.thsu.edu.