Neck and shoulder pain is a common phrase used to describe aching, pulling sensations, tightness and heaviness of the neck, shoulders, upper back and inside borders of the shoulder blades. These sensations are often caused by overusing the arms or doing too much work while seated. Furthermore, it is common for pain in this region to be related to a variety of internal diseases, which if left unresolved, could aggravate the soft tissues of the upper body. Common perpetrators are illnesses of the sense organs (i.e. eyes, ears), headaches and migraines, abnormalities in blood pressure, coughing and breathing difficulties. Lastly, there are occasions where trauma from a fall or a whiplash injury causes bruising of the soft tissues.
In physical medicine, the treatment of the affected area is always important. One must evaluate the painful area, identify broad patterns of restriction and find indurations to treat. More easily understood as ‘hard points’ or ‘reactive points’, indurations are tight painful areas of tissue. Needles and heat therapy are commonly applied on indurations. This may be accomplished with light stimulation or heavy stimulation depending on the situation. However, I believe it should always be done with comfort in mind. Relaxing indurated tissue is frequently the key to unlocking muscle and joint restrictions and to relieving pain. Additionally, when there is damage to the joints or bones, the above strategy is very useful in reducing the overall pressure on these structures and forms a critical component to more direct treatment required in and around the hard tissues themselves.
Whilst treating the local area of pain is an essential aspect of treatment, traditional East Asian medicine places great importance on using physical therapy to support the body’s internal functioning and enhance its natural healing ability. It is theorized that uninhibited and balanced circulation throughout the entire body is required to drive this capability to heal*. The substances in circulation are Qi (pronounced Chee) and blood. Qi is a representational term used in traditional medicine to describe the energy that activates our bodies. Blood is considered the fluid vehicle that carries Qi and nourishes our form. Together they ensure optimal functioning and nourishment of the body’s internal organs and external structures. If there is resistance to free circulation or a lack of activating energy the body’s natural healing ability is diminished. Therefore, whilst directly easing the site of the pain is essential, it is also important to reduce fatigue and tension throughout the entire body so the natural healing ability is maximized.
*It is important you think of these theories as models for understanding disease processes in the human body. It is evident they were conceived through extensive observation and experimentation, and for centuries provided a useful framework for understanding how to treat disease. It is my opinion these models are still valuable in dealing with our society’s current health care needs.