Neck Pain | Shoulder Pain

Neck Pain | Shoulder Pain

Neck and shoulder pain is a common complaint associated with chronically tight/unbalanced muscles.  It is often exacerbated by injury.  Conventional medicine usually offers only anti-inflammatory, pain killing, and muscle relaxer drugs.  Dr. Barnett may choose to prescribe these medications or give an injection on occasion, but is much more likely to use some combination of acupuncture, acupressure, and spinal adjustments to restore normal and comfortable movement to the joints involved.

neck pain and stiffness into the upper back (shoulders) is ubiquitous in today’s stressful lifestyle.  Too many things/situations are “a pain in the neck.”  We tend to hold our stress most often in the neck region.  Muscles need to be relaxed most of the time, with occasional contractions.  Both relaxation and contractions are needed for the muscles to be healthy.  If muscles in the neck are constantly contracted, then they get poor blood supply and poor lymph drainage, resulting in neck pain.  If poor circulation from chronic contracture persists, then the muscles loose their supple quality, becoming more more fibrotic (hard) and eventually weak.  Fibromyalgia = fibrotic and painful muscles.  Fibrosis is usually only going to occur from chronic muscle contracture, which usually requires ongoing treatment (occasional acupuncture and/or adjustments), which is not usually necessary if the problem began recently from a non-major injury/incident.  Studies suggest that only 2-3 treatment are usually required if patients seek treatment within two weeks of onset.  Patients often ask how often they should come in to prevent a major flare-up of a chronic problem.  I agree that coming for preventive visits make sense, as they decrese the chances of a bigger problem occurring.  The problem is that activities, diet, stress and injury are not constants for people, making predictions difficult for both healing and prevention.  Therefore I will rarely make suggestions for “treatment plans” or recommendations for preventive treatments.  I generally operate under the “come back when you think you need to” once you are pretty much better.  To get there requires a higher frequency if symptoms are severe.

While I first opened my practice in Iowa in 1997 intending to practice mainly acupuncture, my practice really took off because people were referring to me in large numbers for neck pain, calling me a “neck specialist”.  When I asked why people called me that, I was told it was because my style was so different from all the other chiropractors patients had seen.  It’s true that there were, and continues to be, four major differences in my approach compared to chiropractors.

1) The typical chiropractor looks for misalignment (bones out of place), which they call subluxation, and are fond of x-rays to find these.   They may recognize fixation as an issue, but this, as with most things, are considered a result of misalignment. They also focus on the effects of subluxation on nerve conduction, leading to the assumption that they are treating more than just back and neck pain.

I differ here in that I don’t see misalignment as root cause of the fixation and other health issues.  I see misalignment and neck pain as the effect of muscle contracture and imbalance.

2) the typical chiropractor uses x-Rays, postural analysis, palpating, etc to look for misalignment.  These approaches are mainly mechanical.

I differ here in that while I may use these same mechanical approaches, I mainly use a functional Chinese medicine approach to finding the problem.  This is a mind-body approach, which includes some muscles testing techniques roughly related to the Applied Kinesiology (AK) approach.  AK is used by a small minority of chiropractors, naturopaths, MDs, and DOs, and can be used for some pretty exotic applications.  I differ in that I keep my AK applications limited to mechanical applications and those most associated with traditional Chinese medicine, such as front-mu and back- shu points.

3) Most chiropractors adjust for neck pain while the patient lies on their back, whereas I adjust with the patient seated in a chair.  I believe that this position allows more precision and safety in adjusting the patient.

4) The typical chiropractor seems to believe that the adjustment is the main therapy, with number and frequency of adjustments being the main factors in treatment success.

I differ in that I focus on muscle tightness and balance as the main factor related to reducing neck pain.  My focus for neck pain management is to reduce hypertonic muscles and restore muscle balance so that patients can hold their neck adjustments.  I give homework for patient to get control of their neck pain, especially if it is chronic.