Treating Neck and Back Pain with Acupuncture

Most of us have experienced waking up with tight and achy muscles in our neck after sleeping in an odd position or after many hours of working at a computer. Likewise, many people can experience a sudden, sharp pain in the low back after a long day of sitting at work, bending down to pick up an object or shoveling the driveway after a snowstorm. Often these aches and pains are chronic- lasting for months at a time.

There are various reasons why neck or back pain develops but one of the most common reasons is trigger points. Trigger points are defined as areas of muscle fibers (commonly felt as a “knot”) that are irritable and cause pain locally and sometimes pain that radiates when the trigger point is pressed. The muscles feel tight, in spasm, tender when touched and range of motion may be limited. Turning your head may be difficult because it feels as if the muscle hits the brakes and moving any further would be too painful, or similarly standing up straight after bending forward feels almost impossible to do. In addition to the muscle pain there may be tingling, numbness or an achy sensation down the arm on the side of the neck that is tight, or in the hip or down the legs when the low back is affected.

Trigger points develop in muscles due to overuse, repetitive physical activity or poor posture. The area affected by the trigger point will have sensitized nerves and decreased circulation which is what leads to the dull, achy, sometimes sharp pain sensation. In Chinese Medicine these painful points are called “Ashi” points which roughly translate into “that’s it!” as in “that’s the spot that hurts!” Frequently these areas of localized pain coincide with acupuncture points along specific channels or meridians in the body defined by classical Chinese medical texts. 

Acupuncture uses very fine needles to release these tight muscle bands, known as trigger point needling. If you’ve ever heard of dry needling it may sound very similar, the idea of needling into trigger points is similar, but dry needling is a treatment performed by other healthcare providers who may have completed a short certification course to learn how to do this type of therapy. In contrast, acupuncturists have thousands of clinical hours of training needling over 350 points on the body, and practice various techniques of needling according to the individual’s pain pattern and specific underlying condition. 

A trained acupuncturist will also commonly use points that are located far from the knotted and tender area, as these are points that will help relieve pain due to their location in the affected meridian. For example, if a trigger point is located over the shoulder blade and you have pain and a tingling sensation down the arm, an acupuncturist will not only needle the shoulder blade area but also possibly a point in the upper or lower arm. This allows us to give a more complete treatment that addresses your specific pattern of discomfort.

Most patients will feel a twitching sensation when a trigger point is treated and released, and a tingling sensation in other acupuncture points, if at all. Once the point is released circulation increases in these areas that were previously tight and tender. Many patients report that they feel as if they’ve worked out the muscle and they experience a measurable reduction in pain either immediately or by the following day. Oftentimes patients have an immediate decrease in pain and walk out of the office with improved mobility.

If you’ve been experiencing neck or back pain consider trying acupuncture- a non-invasive, gentle and prescription-free way to get relief from your pain!

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Our office is located in the Financial District of lower Manhattan NY, 10038 near Fulton Center, just a few stops from China Town, Soho/NoHo, The Oculus, Union Square, Times Square, Midtown, Chelsea, Wall Street, Williamsburg, Lower East side. #NYC

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Alexandra Ruiz, L.Ac., MSTOM

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