Got a Stiff Neck? TCM Treatments & Tips

What is a Stiff Neck?

A stiff neck is typically characterised by pain and soreness in the neck and/or shoulder and difficulty moving the neck. It is usually felt upon waking up in the morning and can affect your daily activities. 

Which Muscles are Affected in a Stiff Neck?

The most common cause of stiff neck is a muscle or a soft tissue injury. The most common muscles affected are:

  1. Sternocleidomastoid muscle
  2. Levator Scapulae muscle
  3. Trapezius muscle
  4. Rhomboid muscle


Common Causes of a Stiff Neck

A stiff neck is usually the result of soft tissue and muscles around the neck and shoulder weakening over time due to prolonged wrong body posture. Some common culprits include: 

  • Sleeping with your neck at an awkward posture
  • Prolonged wrong body posture such as:
    • Gazing (in a slouched position) at the computer screen for long period of time
    • Looking down at our mobile phones for too long

  • Sudden impact from sport injuries that pushes your head to the side 
  • Excessive stress or anxiety resulting in tense muscles

Most people get a stiff neck that develops out of nowhere after waking up and can be difficult to pinpoint the exact cause. 


TCM Treatments to Relieve a Stiff Neck

Chinese Medicine (TCM) use a combination of natural methods to relieve a stiff neck, aimed to: 
– Reduce pain and symptoms
– Strengthen the affected area, and
– Stimulate the body’s natural healing mechanisms.

As TCM treatments are usually personalised, each patient may be recommended different treatment methods depending the needs of each condition. 

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Acupuncture involves inserting thin needles at specific points along the body’s meridians for various healing purposes.

For a stiff neck, needles might be inserted in points related to the neck, shoulders and upper back to:
– reduce pain and stiffness
– relax tense muscles, allowing for improved range of motion.
– stimulate energy flow (Qi) and promote healing. 

acupuncture performed on a patient's neck
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Tui Na

Tui na is a type of Chinese therapeutic massage.  It uses techniques such as kneading, rolling and stimulating acupressure points to relax muscles, improve circulation and promote healing.

Tui na can be particularly effective for releasing tension in the neck and shoulders.  

tuina massage on the neck
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In cupping therapy, cups are placed on the skin to create suction. It can help to:
– Relax tight muscles
– Promote blood flow & healing to target area
For a stiff neck, cups may be be placed on the upper back and neck area.

cupping therapy

Gua Sha

Also known as scraping therapy, this involves scraping the skin with a ‘gua sha’ tool to improve circulation. It’s often used to help relieve muscle pain and stiffness.

A woman receiving gua sha therapy
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Herbal Prescription & Ointment

Depending on the diagnosis, the physician may use herbal ointments on affected areas or prescribe certain Chinese herbs to promote blood circulation, relax muscles and alleviate pain. 

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Lifestyle Modifications

You may also be recommended to make some changes to your posture or diet, or to perform certain stretches at home. 

If you would like to relieve your neck’s stiffness or pain through Chinese medicine, we can help. Book an appointment with a PULSE physician today. 

9 thoughts on “Got a Stiff Neck? TCM Treatments & Tips”

  1. Avatar photo

    I’ve pain on the sides of my neck to shoulder area, as well as the area on the upper back… I got these pains after I had my ACDF surgery, most probably from weakening of my muscles during downtime after op.

    I’ve also experience back of eyeball pain and headaches. Sometimes, giddiness or light-headedness.

    Can you advise me how I can relieve these pains? Can you help me please?

    Thank you,

    1. Avatar photo

      Hi Peter, do you mind sharing a photo of your tongue and the symptoms experienced (i.e. eyes are pulling n two side of the shoulder are pulling/ painful) with us over at One of our physicians will get back to you within 24 hours!

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