TCM Tips for 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 Lifestyle Causes of a Stiff Neck
  • 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 it is difficult to pinpoint the exact cause. 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. 

Are you guilty of the following incorrect body postures? 

TCM Treatments for a Stiff Neck

Depending on the cause, symptoms and duration diagnosed by the TCM physician, the following combinations of TCM methods are typically used to treat stiff neck. 

  1. Acupuncture to release blocked energy (Qi) and promote circulation. This helps reduce pain and stiffness in the neck, and relax tense muscles, allowing for improved range of motion.
  2. Cupping therapy to promote blood flow to the area, which can help to relax tight muscles, reduce stiffness and promote healing
  3. Gua Sha
  4. Tui Na massage
  5. Herbal ointments & medication
  6. Lifestyle modifications 

If you would like to relieve your stiff neck naturally through TCM, we can help. Book your appointment with a PULSE physician today. 

Link to a page on TCM treatments for pain & injury

DIY Acupoints Massages to relieve symptoms of a Stiff Neck

Hou Xi (后溪穴, SI3)
How to locate:

  1. Make a loose fist
  2. While making a fist, locate the small bulge that forms at the end of the crease. The point Hou Xi is located at the end of the crease of your hand.

How to massage:

  1. Place both hands (Hou Xi) and roll in circles against the table. You will experience a sensation of sore numbness.
  2. At the same time, gently move the neck left, right, up, down to promote the ‘Qi’ and blood circulation of the neck. You should experience a slight improvement in range of motion and a decrease in neck tightness. 

Luo Zhen (落枕穴, Ex-UE8) 

How to locate:

  1. Located on the dorsum of the hand (small depression on the back of your hand), between the 2nd and 3rd metacarpal bones (your knuckles)
  2. Slide your finger between the two knuckles to locate the depression proximal to the 2nd and 3rd metacarpophalangeal joints.

How to massage:

  1. Massage the “Luo Zhen” point on the opposite side of the body where the neck pain is located. If the left side of your neck hurts, massage the point on your right hand.
  2. Massage the point with the tip of your finger till you feel soreness. Maintain that pressure while rotating your finger on the point.
  3. Gently rotate your neck left and right while stimulating the acupoint. You should slowly begin to notice a decrease in neck pain and a slight increase in your range of motion.

Ear acupressure at 枕穴

How to massage:

  1. Massage the ear’s 枕穴 with your fingers on the same side of the body as the neck pain. 
  2. If the left side of your neck hurts, massage the point on your left ear. You will feel a decrease in neck pain.
Lifestyle Modifications Tips

Pay Attention to your Body Posture

Be mindful and put in effort to improve your posture. Focus on keeping the neck, shoulders and back in a straight line (you will have natural curves in your cervical, thoracic and lumbar areas) throughout the day.

When we have good posture, the muscles surrounding the spine are balanced and support the body equally. 

  • When seated:
    • Keep the screen at eye level and your feet should lie flat on the floor. Do not slouch your neck or shoulders forward.
    • Take short breaks. Get up and stretch at least once every hour. 
  • Avoid talking while the phone is tucked between the shoulder and ear. Use an earpiece instead. 
  • Try not to look down at a handphone, laptop or tablet for long periods. Hold the electronic device at eye level whenever possible. Take frequent breaks. 
  • Avoid carrying heavy sling bags. This can put pressure and strain the muscles in the neck and shoulder. Use backpacks whenever possible.

Pick the right pillow

  • A pillow is supposed to keep your head and neck in an aligned position to ensure proper spine alignment during sleep. 
  • Choose a pillow height based on your sleeping position. 
  • For back sleepers, the height of the pillow should be 6 – 9 cm. The height of the pillow should be as high as one’s fist. 
  • For side sleepers, the height of the pillow should be about 1.5x as high as one’s fist as the empty space between your neck and shoulders need to be filled up. 
  • Have a pillow that is neither too hard nor too soft too. 
  • Do not sleep on the stomach.

Maintain your core strength of the muscles of your back, abdomen and buttocks with exercise. A strong core muscle can support the spine and prevent neck pain. 

    1. Stand straight behind a chair/table (for support). Spread your weight evenly by standing with your feet hip-width apart.
    2. Tighten your abdominal muscles.
    3. Lift up your toes for 5 -10 seconds and slowly lower your heels to the floor. 
    4. Repeat 10 times daily. 
    5. This exercise improves balance and posture to help prevent neck tightness and pain.

    1. Sit upright on a chair with your hands resting on your legs and your feet on the floor.
    2. Inhale to engage your abdominal muscles as you slowly lift your leg high. Do not go higher than your waist. 
    3. Exhale as your leg returns to the starting position.
    4. Repeat 10 times and repeat another 10 times with the other leg.

Article by Physician Kang Ting Tan

Note: Information provided is not a substitute for a physician or any form of medical care. Individual symptoms differ due to different body constitutions and diagnosis. One should consult a licensed TCM practitioner for accurate diagnosis and treatment.

7 thoughts on “TCM Tips for a Stiff Neck”

  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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