Neck and Shoulder Pain – “It’s all about blood flow”

Apart from being painful, a tight neck constricts blood flow to your brain and can affect your mental function.

For this reason alone it’s essential that you get your neck pain fixed.  Neck pain can impact every aspect of our lives!

Fortunately, neck pain can normally be treated relatively easily provided you have not injured it in a major way and there is no underlying systemic cause, such as arthritis (injuries and arthritis can also be treated successfully but take longer).  Neck pain is one of the most common reasons people come to see me.

A lot of neck pain comes from holding stress in the shoulders.  There are two main causes of shoulder stress:   mental/emotional duress and physical duress.  For most people it’s a complex mish-mash of both, and it can seem difficult to know where to start.  However, if you are suffering from neck and shoulder pain, in my opinion it’s nearly always better to begin with the physical.  There is a very good reason for this.

Essentially, it’s all about blood flow.  When you have neck and shoulder pain, your neck muscles are tight, and this restricts blood flow to the brain, eyes, teeth, ears and sinuses.  I’ve experienced many situations where I have treated neck and shoulder pain and the client has commented that their memory has improved, their vision is clearer and it’s as though a veil has lifted on their mental state.  Of course, I am not saying that treating your neck will always improve eye sight, memory or your mental state, because there are usually other factors too.  However, if physical restriction of blood flow to the brain is occurring, then you will not be able to genuinely improve these secondary problems without first fixing your neck.  In particular, making sure your brain is getting all the nourishment it needs via good blood flow is absolutely key in respect of being able to resolve your mental and emotional stress.

Let’s take a look at some of the causes of neck and shoulder pain, and how we can fix them.  Because in reality, it’s the causes we need to focus on fixing, not the pain itself.  Your pain is a symptom of a deeper cause, and it will disappear naturally when the cause is thoroughly and properly eliminated.

4 Common Causes of Neck and Shoulder Pain

1. Incorrect posture when working on a computer all day

Repetitive work without a break is never good, but constant stagnation of your posture, particularly if you’re slouching, can also be harmful.  Working at a computer all day unfortunately creates both these situations:  it brings about both repetition of specific muscle groups and stress on your unmoving neck and shoulders.  ‘Frozen shoulder’ is the common term for it, and it can be nasty – a numb shoulder (usually your mouse hand), hard as a rock, with tendrils of acute pain leaching up into your neck and head.   If you’ve reached this point then you definitely need treatment.

I have helped hundreds of people with neck pain caused by frozen shoulder using acupuncture, herbs and nutritional medicines targeted at giving the muscles the right nutrients to help them relax.  However, treatment alone isn’t going to fix your problem permanently if you don’t change your work habits and seating arrangements.  Invest in an ergonomic set up, and make sure you take regular breaks where you stretch, walk around (go outside if possible) and generally get your blood moving throughout your body – but particularly through your neck and shoulders.  If you can’t take the time to walk around, then at least stand up and stretch your arms above your head every 20 minutes or so, move your head from side to side and back to front (be sure to stretch tall through your neck before tipping your head back or you may compress the vertebrae too much).  Also, focus on using your stomach muscles to sit up straight (your tummy will also thank you!)

Even with these precautions, you may find you still need treatments every 3 to 4 weeks to keep your body happy.  After all, sitting at a computer all day is not our natural human habitat!

2. Incorrect posture when doing heavy lifting

Using your body the wrong way to lift heavy things can result in serious problems, especially if you’re doing it over and over as part of your job.  The first thing to do is look at how you lift.  Are you mainly using your arms and shoulders?  To lift well, you need to fully engage your stomach and leg muscles.  If you are regularly lifting incorrectly your situation may become chronic and cause serious injury.  Acupuncture, herbs and nutritional medicines can get you out of trouble and back on your feet, but ultimately you need to change your lifting habits, find a different job or invest in regular treatments and nutritional medicines so your body can better manage the extra stress it’s under.

3.  Sleeping with an unsupportive pillow or mattress

Compromising on the quality of your mattress or pillow is a recipe for disaster, especially if you’re already prone to neck problems.  We spend (hopefully) around eight hours in bed every day, which is one third of our lives.  Make sure your spine and neck are well supported – not only will your neck thank you for it, but you’ll get a good night’s rest, which has huge implications for your overall health.

4. Pushing yourself too hard mentally and emotionally

Did you ever have a wind-up toy when you were a kid?  I’d always wind the key until it stopped, and then sometimes I couldn’t resist winding it just a bit more to try to squeeze out every last drop of toy action!  This worked for a while, but then sooner or later – pop! – I would overdo it and the spring would overstretch.  That was the end of it.  It would stay wound up, but it wouldn’t wind down and work, which made it pretty much useless.

It’s not hard to see the analogy with stress.  In the normal flow of things we wind ourselves up and then slowly unwind until we return to a complete state of rest.  But if we overdo the winding – if we keep trying to eek out every little bit of juice, every little bit of available energy – then sooner or later something’s going to pop.  Whether it’s a sore neck or back, a fight with a loved one, brain fog, unhealthy weight gain because you’re binging to cope with the stress, unhealthy weight loss because you’re so anxious you don’t feel like eating, or a total nervous breakdown, there has to be a consequence for putting yourself under extreme stress.

In the short term, acute stress can serve to enhance some types of mental functioning, an aspect of the Flight or Fight scenario posed by William James over 100 years ago. However, it is well-documented that unrelieved chronic stress can produce deleterious cognitive changes including problems with thinking, memory, concentration and behavior.  In particular, multi-tasking, so common in today’s busy world particularly with various media devices, is not at all good for brain health and in fact results in less productivity, according to a Stanford University 2009 study.

The solution to any emotional or mental stress is first of all to prioritise looking after yourself.  You must take the time to fully wind down, and fully rest, on a regular basis, and you must schedule it in.  You need to change the status of looking after yourself from ‘want to’ to ‘have to’ – because let’s face it, ‘want to’ stuff is highly likely to get crowded out by the ‘have to’ stuff.  ‘Have to’ stuff is scheduled in, and it’s also much easier to justify the money you invest as a necessary part of living a fulfilling and sustainable life.

In terms of how you look after yourself, there’s a lot to choose from.  Whether it’s spending time with friends, exercising (hugely important in combatting stress – see this study), having a regular massage or seeing a counsellor, the important thing is that you give yourself the love and respect your body and mind needs, instead of wringing out every last drop of life and energy.

I recommend acupuncture as an ideal way to both wind down AND fix neck and shoulder issues at the same time.

Acupuncture uses specific points on the body which soothe your nervous system and can put you in to a relaxed, even blissful state.  For many people, simply lying on a treatment table for 40 minutes in peace and quiet is a panacea for the stress in their lives. However, the science also stacks up:  a study reported in Time Magazine online shows the likely biochemical reasons why acupuncture relieves stress.  More generally,  a large study released in 2012 that involved more than 18,000 patients demonstrated that acupuncture is indeed an excellent solution for chronic pain.  The researchers found that acupuncture outperformed sham treatments and standard care when used by people suffering from osteoarthritis, migraines and chronic back, neck and shoulder pain.  This New York Times report sums up the research and provides a link to the study.

Proper nutritional support is essential

There are specific herbs and nutritional medicines that nourish your nervous system and can correct important mineral and hormonal imbalances that may be causing unnecessary physical and emotional/mental stress.  An acidic body pH exacerbates inflammation and this can also be corrected by certain medicines (though diet and reducing stress remain the most important factors long-term). Be sure to use Practitioner-Only natural medicines prescribed by a Naturopath to be assured of strength, quality, purity and a correct balance of ingredients.

Meditate your way to mental calm

Single minded meditation, where you train your mind to focus on one thing for a period of time, can also be very helpful.  It can teach you to keep your entire attention on the task you are doing without thinking about all the other things you have to do.  A 2016 University of Wisconsin-Madison study demonstrated that mindfulness meditation can combat multitasking and in fact sharpen mental focus.   So, if you truly want to be successful and effective in your life, schedule in meditation time.  If you need some support, there are many meditation groups and teachers about – an internet search in your local area will get you started.

Systemic problems – arthritis, calcification and bone spurs

Neck pain stemming from arthritis, calcification and bone spurs are chronic conditions usually due to an acid state.  The body’s blood pH needs to be maintained at 7.35, and the body will do anything to keep it at this level.  If your blood is too acidic (caused by an acidic diet and stress) your body will actually take minerals from your bones to alkalise your blood and return it to 7.35.  The minerals from this process can then accumulate in certain areas of the body and form calcification and bone spurs.

In these situations we really need to assess the underlying nature of the issue and thoroughly assess your health. At our clinic we do extensive blood and urine testing to identify pH levels, find out mineral and vitamin deficiencies, identify hormonal imbalances and much more to get a complete and thorough understanding of your health status.  I can also determine a great deal of information through Chinese Pulse Diagnosis, and also we have some advanced health assessment devices which we find extremely accurate.  Explore our dedicated naturopathic website to find out more.

Systemic conditions take a long time to develop and therefore often require long-term treatment to correct.  We offer a number of health programs to enable you to have ongoing support and treatment while your body heals (you can of course just come casually if you prefer, however our health programs are excellent value for money).

Finally, please be aware that despite many successes with past clients I can’t guarantee success with every client (no health practitioner can).  Nevertheless, I am confident enough to offer a First Visit Guarantee, where we give YOU $30 (in addition to refunding you the full cost of our services to you) if you’re not satisfied with your first appointment.  Full details are below.

Scott Hankinson
Naturopath & Chinese Medicine Practitioner

Take out the risk with our $30 First Visit Guarantee.

We are so confident you’ll be satisfied with your first consultation that if you’re unhappy with our service, we’ll not only refund the cost of our services … we’ll also give you $30! All you need to do is inform our receptionist at the end of your consultation and answer a few questions so we know how we can improve the service we offer for future clients. The Guarantee must be acted upon within 24 hours of your consultation.

Products from third party suppliers purchased by you at your first consultation may be returned and fully refunded providing they are unopened and undamaged (excludes refrigerated products).  Products made in-house specifically for you (e.g. customised herbal medicines) cannot be returned or refunded.


Neck and Shoulder Pain

Your neck and shoulder pain is a symptom of a deeper cause, and it will disappear naturally when the cause is thoroughly and properly eliminated.


Scott Hankinson
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