Neck, shoulder and arm pain is a common condition affecting a great number of people. It usually starts at the neck and progresses to the shoulder, then the arm.
The can be many possible causes for neck pain. The neck consists of 7 cervical vertebrae (C1 - C7) through which the spinal cord passes. Between each pair there is a disc and around the vertebrae there are muscles, arteries, veins, lymph glands, etc. Generally, the soft tissues can cause the majority of the problem. In more severe cases, there could be issues with the disc, such as degeneration, herniation or shifting.
In the neck, shoulder and upper back areas, there are numerous meridians and acupuncture points. When the meridians are partially blocked, the flow of Qi is restricted resulting in discomfort or pain.
From a TCM (Traditional Chinese medicine) perspective, there are several possible causes for neck and shoulder pain. Invasion by external pathogenic factors such as Wind, Coldness and Dampness, stagnation of Qi and Blood stasis, kor Dampness and Phlegm.
Invasion of external Wind and Coldness usually causes minor pain and possibly numbness in the shoulder that last only a short time. There is tightness in the back of the neck and upper back, or the upper arm. The pain will abate when warmth is applied to the pain area.
Invasion of Wind and Dampness usually results in severe pain that lasts long. The pain may be accompanied by sweating, and in severe cases, it will affect sleep and normal daily activities. The range of movement in the neck and shoulders can be restricted. The treatment needs to dispel Wind and Dampness to free up the meridians around the affected areas so normal flow of Qi is restored.
Blood stasis can produce sharp and severe pain in the neck, shoulder or upper back areas and can lead to significant restrictions of movement. Blood stasis can be a result of trauma, in which case, the area of trauma need to be treated. In systemic Blood stasis, the treatments will need to strengthen the Blood and transform the stasis.
Phlegm and Dampness cause longer term problems and often the muscles feel weak and sore. Treatments will need to dispel the Dampness and Phlegm by fortifying the Spleen.