What is Stiff Neck?

A stiff neck, medically termed cervical rigidity, refers to a condition characterized by reduced mobility and discomfort in the neck area. This symptom involves a limitation in the range of motion, often accompanied by pain or discomfort when attempting to turn or tilt the head.

It's a common ailment that can arise from various causes, including muscle strain, prolonged awkward positioning, or underlying health issues.

How does TCM view Stiff Neck?

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), a stiff neck is seen as a disruption in the harmonious balance of the body's energies. TCM interprets this condition not just as a physical ailment but as a reflection of underlying imbalances in the flow of Qi (vital energy) and Blood.

According to TCM, the neck is a pivotal area where Qi and Blood circulate to connect the head and the body, and any disruption in this area can lead to stiffness. The holistic view of TCM also considers environmental, emotional, and lifestyle factors contributing to this condition.

Root Causes of Stiff Neck in TCM

TCM attributes stiff neck to several internal and external factors. Primarily, the invasion of external pathogenic factors like Wind, especially when combined with Cold or Dampness, is believed to obstruct the flow of Qi and Blood in the neck area.

Internally, emotional stress, anger, or frustration can lead to Liver Qi Stagnation, a common TCM diagnosis associated with muscle tension and stiffness.

Another cause considered in TCM is the Deficiency of Qi or Blood, leading to inadequate nourishment of neck muscles and tendons, resulting in stiffness. The treatment approach in TCM, therefore, involves identifying and addressing these specific patterns of imbalance.

Explore below more details about what might cause Stiff neck according to TCM.

  • By Syndrome
  • By Organ
  • Liver
Detailed description of the cause

Wind

In TCM "Wind" is a concept that represents a pattern of disharmony, often characterized by its sudden and unpredictable nature, much like a gusty wind changing direction without warning. This pattern is associated with symptoms that come and go quickly or move around the body, such as itching, tremors, or even certain types of pain. Wind is considered to be a primary cause of illnesses that have these rapidly changing characteristics. In TCM, external Wind often refers to illnesses that start suddenly, like the common cold, believed to be caused by external pathogenic factors like climatic changes. On the other hand, internal Wind can be linked to internal imbalances and can manifest in conditions like dizziness or spasms. ... see more

Wind Patterns That Can Lead to Stiff Neck

Common Symptoms: High Fever Convulsions Opisthotonos Headaches Anemophobia Sneezing Coughing Neck Pain

Pattern Name Relevant Symptoms Relevant Formulas
Heat victorious stirring Wind Rigidity of neck, High fever, Fainting, Limb twitching, Convulsions, Stiff neck, Opisthotonos, Eyeballs turning up, Clenching of teeth... see more Ling Jiao Gou Teng Tang
Liver Wind agitating Internally due to extreme Heat Rigidity of neck, High fever, Convulsions, Stiff neck, Hand tremor, Opisthotonos Ling Jiao Gou Teng Tang | Tian Ma Gou Teng Yin | Feng Yin Tang
Exterior Wind Stiff neck, Aversion to cold, Fever, Headaches, Anemophobia, Nasal discharge, Clear sputum, Itchy throat, Sneezing, Coughing, Muscle pain, Itchy skin... see more Chuan Xiong Cha Tiao San
Greater Yang Attack of Wind Stiff neck, Slight aversion to cold, Anemophobia, Low grade fever, Mild sweating, Sneezing, Occipital headache... see more Gui Zhi Tang
Wind-Cold-Damp invading with Qi Deficiency Stiff neck, High fever, Fever without perspiration, Headaches, Neck pain, Painful extremities, Focal distention, Chest distension, Congested nose, Noisy breathing, Coughing... see more Ren Shen Bai Du San
Detailed description of the cause

Cold

In TCM "Cold" as a pattern of disharmony refers to a specific type of imbalance within the body's systems, often linked to a deficiency or weakness. It's not about feeling physically cold or having a common cold, but rather a metaphorical description of certain symptoms and underlying conditions. When a TCM practitioner says someone suffers from "Cold," it usually implies that the body's Yang energy, which is warm and active, is insufficient or overpowered by Yin energy, which is cool and passive. Symptoms of Cold in TCM can include a general feeling of coldness, cold limbs, pale complexion, low energy, slow metabolism, and a preference for warmth. ... see more

Cold Patterns That Can Lead to Stiff Neck

Common Symptoms: Aversion To Cold Lack Of Sweating Arthralgia Joint Stiffness Muscle Pain Swollen Joints Muscle Numbness Fever

Pattern Name Relevant Symptoms Relevant Formulas
Cold invading the Channels joints and muscles Stiff neck, Arthralgia, Joint stiffness, Muscle pain, Swollen joints, Muscle numbness Wu Tou Tang | Xiao Huo Luo Dan
Exterior-Cold Stiff neck, Aversion to cold, Fever, Body pain, Lack of sweating, Absence of thirst, Feeling hot, Chills... see more Ma Huang Tang | Gui Zhi Tang
Greater Yang Attack of Cold Stiff neck, Occipital headache, Aversion to cold, Low grade fever, Lack of sweating, Sneezing, Nasal discharge, Shortness of breath... see more Ma Huang Tang
Wind-Cold-Damp invading with Qi Deficiency Stiff neck, High fever, Fever without perspiration, Headaches, Neck pain, Painful extremities, Focal distention, Chest distension, Congested nose, Noisy breathing, Coughing... see more Ren Shen Bai Du San
Detailed description of the cause

Heat

In TCM "Heat" signifies an excess of Yang energy, leading to an imbalance where heat predominates over the body's cool Yin aspects. This condition is metaphorically akin to an internal over-heating. Symptoms indicative of Heat can include feelings of warmth, fever, sweating, irritability, red face, thirst with a preference for cold drinks, and a rapid pulse. The tongue may appear red with a yellow coating. Unlike the common interpretation of heat in terms of temperature, in TCM, it represents a state of hyperactivity or inflammation in the body.... see more

Heat Patterns That Can Lead to Stiff Neck

Common Symptoms: High Fever Convulsions Opisthotonos Fainting Limb Twitching Eyeballs Turning Up Clenching Of Teeth Hand Tremor

Pattern Name Relevant Symptoms Relevant Formulas
Heat victorious stirring Wind Rigidity of neck, High fever, Fainting, Limb twitching, Convulsions, Stiff neck, Opisthotonos, Eyeballs turning up, Clenching of teeth... see more Ling Jiao Gou Teng Tang
Liver Wind agitating Internally due to extreme Heat Rigidity of neck, High fever, Convulsions, Stiff neck, Hand tremor, Opisthotonos Ling Jiao Gou Teng Tang | Tian Ma Gou Teng Yin | Feng Yin Tang
Exterior-Heat Stiff neck, Aversion to cold, Fever, Perspiration, Thirst, Body pain Yin Qiao San | Shi Gao Tang
Detailed description of the cause

Yang Excess

Yang Excess in TCM refers to a state where there is an overabundance of Yang energy, leading to symptoms of heat and hyperactivity in the body. This pattern of disharmony often arises from factors like stress, excessive physical activity, overconsumption of spicy or heating foods, or an internal imbalance that causes Yang to flare up. Symptoms of Yang Excess include a feeling of heat, red face, irritability, restlessness, thirst, constipation, and a rapid, forceful pulse. Treatment in TCM for Yang Excess aims to cool down and subdue the excessive Yang while nurturing Yin energy to restore balance.... see more

Yang Excess Patterns That Can Lead to Stiff Neck

Pattern Name Relevant Symptoms Relevant Formulas
Liver Yang Rising Stiff neck, Headaches, Dizziness, Tinnitus, Deafness, Blurry vision, Xerostomia, Dry throat, Insomnia, Irritability, Exhaustion, Anger, Shoulder stiffness, Stiff upper back... see more Ling Jiao Gou Teng Tang | Tian Ma Gou Teng Yin | Liu Wei Di Huang Wan | Qi Ju Di Huang Wan | Da Chai Hu Tang | Zhen Zhu Mu Wan | Zhen Xin An Shen Tang
Detailed description of the cause

Qi Deficiency

Qi Deficiency in TCM is like running low on battery power. Qi is the vital energy that powers every function in your body. When there's a Qi Deficiency, it means your body doesn't have enough of this essential energy. This can make you feel tired all the time, weak, or even cause shortness of breath. It's similar to how you feel when you haven't had enough sleep or nutritious food. Your body just doesn't have the energy it needs to perform at its best. Unlike modern medicine, which often focuses on specific physical causes for fatigue and weakness, TCM views Qi Deficiency as an overall energy depletion that affects your entire well-being, and it seeks to replenish and balance this vital energy.... see more

Qi Deficiency Patterns That Can Lead to Stiff Neck

Pattern Name Relevant Symptoms Relevant Formulas
Wind-Cold-Damp invading with Qi Deficiency Stiff neck, High fever, Fever without perspiration, Headaches, Neck pain, Painful extremities, Focal distention, Chest distension, Congested nose, Noisy breathing, Coughing... see more Ren Shen Bai Du San
Detailed description of the cause

Dampness

"Dampness" in TCM is a concept that describes a pattern of disharmony where the body accumulates excess moisture. Imagine the heavy, sticky feeling you get on a very humid day; that's similar to what dampness feels like internally. It can manifest as a sense of heaviness, bloating, sluggishness, or even a foggy mind. This condition is often thought to arise from environmental factors like living in a damp place, dietary habits that promote moisture in the body, or internal imbalances that hinder the body's ability to process fluids properly. In TCM, dampness can obstruct the normal flow of energy and fluids in the body, leading to various symptoms.... see more

Dampness Patterns That Can Lead to Stiff Neck

Pattern Name Relevant Symptoms Relevant Formulas
Wind-Cold-Damp invading with Qi Deficiency Stiff neck, High fever, Fever without perspiration, Headaches, Neck pain, Painful extremities, Focal distention, Chest distension, Congested nose, Noisy breathing, Coughing... see more Ren Shen Bai Du San
Detailed description of the cause

Liver

In TCM the Liver is viewed as the organ responsible for the smooth flow of Qi, Blood, and emotions throughout the body. It plays a key role in regulating mood, storing blood, supporting digestion, and ensuring the health of tendons and eyes. When the Liver malfunctions or is imbalanced in TCM, it can lead to a range of issues such as irritability, mood swings, menstrual irregularities, eye problems, and muscular stiffness or pain. A malfunctioning Liver in TCM reflects not only physical disturbances but also emotional and mental disharmony, emphasizing the holistic approach of TCM in addressing health and wellness.... see more

Liver Patterns That Can Lead to Stiff Neck

Common Symptoms: High Fever Convulsions Opisthotonos Dizziness Fainting Limb Twitching Eyeballs Turning Up Clenching Of Teeth

Pattern Name Relevant Symptoms Relevant Formulas
Heat victorious stirring Wind Rigidity of neck, High fever, Fainting, Limb twitching, Convulsions, Stiff neck, Opisthotonos, Eyeballs turning up, Clenching of teeth... see more Ling Jiao Gou Teng Tang
Liver Wind agitating Internally due to extreme Heat Rigidity of neck, High fever, Convulsions, Stiff neck, Hand tremor, Opisthotonos Ling Jiao Gou Teng Tang | Tian Ma Gou Teng Yin | Feng Yin Tang
Liver Yang Rising Stiff neck, Headaches, Dizziness, Tinnitus, Deafness, Blurry vision, Xerostomia, Dry throat, Insomnia, Irritability, Exhaustion, Anger, Shoulder stiffness, Stiff upper back... see more Ling Jiao Gou Teng Tang | Tian Ma Gou Teng Yin | Liu Wei Di Huang Wan | Qi Ju Di Huang Wan | Da Chai Hu Tang | Zhen Zhu Mu Wan | Zhen Xin An Shen Tang

TCM Herbal Formulas for Stiff Neck

TCM employs various herbal formulas to address stiff neck, depending on the underlying cause. Formulas like Ling Jiao Gou Teng Tang are used to pacify Internal Liver Wind and stop tremors, particularly effective when Wind-Heat cause stiffness.

In cases of Cold invasion causing neck stiffness, formulas such as Ma Huang Tang, which clear Wind-Cold, are prescribed. These formulas are selected based on individual diagnosis and pattern differentiation in TCM, emphasizing a personalized approach to treatment.

Explore below some TCM herbal formulas used to address stiff neck, organized by cause and by formula type.

  • By Cause
  • By Formula Type
  • Formulas that dredge and disperse external wind
  • Formulas that pacify and extinguish internal wind
  • Formulas that clear wind-Cold
  • External formulas for external disorders
  • Formulas that nourish yin and tonify
  • Formulas that warm the meridians and disperse cold
  • Formulas that release the exterior and clear the interior
  • Formulas that release the exterior and purge the interior
  • Formulas that sedate and calm the mind
  • Formulas that nourish the heart and calm the mind
  • Formulas that dispel wind-Damp

All Formulas Recommended for Stiff Neck Caused by Wind

Formula Patterns Suitable For
Ling Jiao Gou Teng Tang Heat victorious stirring Wind, Liver Wind agitating Internally due to extreme Heat... see more
Tian Ma Gou Teng Yin Liver Wind agitating Internally due to extreme Heat
Gui Zhi Tang Greater Yang Attack of Wind
Feng Yin Tang Liver Wind agitating Internally due to extreme Heat
Chuan Xiong Cha Tiao San Exterior Wind
Ren Shen Bai Du San Wind-Cold-Damp invading with Qi Deficiency

All Formulas Recommended for Stiff Neck Caused by Cold

Formula Patterns Suitable For
Ma Huang Tang Exterior-Cold, Greater Yang Attack of Cold
Wu Tou Tang Cold invading the Channels joints and muscles
Xiao Huo Luo Dan Cold invading the Channels joints and muscles
Gui Zhi Tang Exterior-Cold
Ren Shen Bai Du San Wind-Cold-Damp invading with Qi Deficiency

All Formulas Recommended for Stiff Neck Caused by Heat

Formula Patterns Suitable For
Ling Jiao Gou Teng Tang Heat victorious stirring Wind, Liver Wind agitating Internally due to extreme Heat... see more
Tian Ma Gou Teng Yin Liver Wind agitating Internally due to extreme Heat
Feng Yin Tang Liver Wind agitating Internally due to extreme Heat
Yin Qiao San Exterior-Heat
Shi Gao Tang Exterior-Heat

All Formulas Recommended for Stiff Neck Caused by Yang Excess

Formula Patterns Suitable For
Ling Jiao Gou Teng Tang Liver Yang Rising
Tian Ma Gou Teng Yin Liver Yang Rising
Liu Wei Di Huang Wan Liver Yang Rising
Qi Ju Di Huang Wan Liver Yang Rising
Da Chai Hu Tang Liver Yang Rising
Zhen Zhu Mu Wan Liver Yang Rising
Zhen Xin An Shen Tang Liver Yang Rising

All "formulas that dredge and disperse external wind" recommended for stiff neck

Formula Patterns Suitable For (if applicable)
Xiao Huo Luo Dan Cold invading the Channels joints and muscles, Painful Obstruction
Feng Yin Tang Liver Wind agitating Internally due to extreme Heat
Chuan Xiong Cha Tiao San Exterior Wind

All "formulas that pacify and extinguish internal wind" recommended for stiff neck

Formula Patterns Suitable For (if applicable)
Ling Jiao Gou Teng Tang Heat victorious stirring Wind, Liver Wind agitating Internally due to extreme Heat, Liver Yang Rising... see more
Tian Ma Gou Teng Yin Liver Wind agitating Internally due to extreme Heat, Liver Yang Rising

All "formulas that clear wind-Cold" recommended for stiff neck

Formula Patterns Suitable For (if applicable)
Ma Huang Tang Exterior-Cold, Greater Yang Attack of Cold
Gui Zhi Tang Exterior-Cold, Greater Yang Attack of Wind

All "external formulas for external disorders" recommended for stiff neck

Formula Patterns Suitable For (if applicable)
Yin Qiao San Exterior-Heat
Ren Shen Bai Du San Wind-Cold-Damp invading with Qi Deficiency

All "formulas that nourish yin and tonify" recommended for stiff neck

Formula Patterns Suitable For (if applicable)
Liu Wei Di Huang Wan Liver Yang Rising
Qi Ju Di Huang Wan Liver Yang Rising

Acupoints for Stiff Neck

TCM acupuncture involves specific acupoints for treating stiff neck. Points such as Dazhu BL-11 and Fengmen BL-12 on the Bladder Channel are targeted for their effectiveness in expelling wind and nourishing Blood, crucial for alleviating neck stiffness. Ganshu BL-18 is also used for invigorating Liver Qi and Blood, which can be beneficial in cases where Liver disharmony contributes to neck rigidity.

Additionally, points on the Small Intestine and Triple Burner Channels, such as Bingfeng SI-12 and Jianjing GB-21, are selected to open channels and remove obstructions, promoting relief from stiffness. These acupoints are chosen based on their specific actions and relevance to the diagnosed pattern in TCM.

Explore below some acupoints used to address stiff neck, organized by meridian.

  • By Meridian
  • Bladder Channel
  • Small Intestine Channel
  • Gall Bladder Channel
  • Triple Burner Channel
  • Governing Vessel
  • Stomach Channel
  • Extra Points: Head and Neck (EX-HN)
  • Large Intestine Channel
  • Kidney Channel
  • Lung Channel
Tongtian BL-7

Tongtian BL-7

1.5 cun lateral to the anterior midline and 4 cun within the anterior hairline.

Yuzhen BL-9

Yuzhen BL-9

First identify Naohu DU-17 which is on the superior border of the external occipital protuberance. Yuzhen BL-9 is 1.3 cun lateral to Naohu DU-17.

Tianzhu BL-10

Tianzhu BL-10

1.3 cun lateral to Yamen DU-15 on the posterior midline, 0.5 cun above the posterior hairline, on the lateral side of trapezius muscle.

Dazhu BL-11

Dazhu BL-11

On the level of the lower border of the spinous process of the 1st thoracic vertebra (T1), 1.5 cun (about 2 finger-breadths) lateral to the posterior midline.

Fengmen BL-12

Fengmen BL-12

1.5 cun lateral to the lower border of the spinous process of the 2nd thoracic vertebra (T2).

Ganshu BL-18

Ganshu BL-18

1.5 cun lateral to the lower border of the spinous process of the 9th thoracic vertebra (T9).

Fufen BL-41

Fufen BL-41

3 cun (about 4 finger-breadths) lateral to the lower border of the spinous process of the 2nd thoracic vertebra (T2).

Kunlun BL-60

Kunlun BL-60

In the depression between the tip of the lateral malleolus and the Achilles tendon.

Shenmai BL-62

Shenmai BL-62

In the depression directly below the lateral malleolus tip.

Shaoze SI-1

Shaoze SI-1

On the ulnar side of the little finger, about 0.1 cun posterior to the corner of the nail.

Qiangu SI-2

Qiangu SI-2

On the ulnar aspect of the little finger, distal to the metacarpophalangeal joint, at the junction of the shaft and the base of the proximal phalanx.

Houxi SI-3

Houxi SI-3

Proximal to the head of the 5th metacarpal bone on the ulnar side, in the depression at the junction of the red and white skin.

Wangu SI-4

Wangu SI-4

On the ulnar side of the palm, in the depression between the base of the 5th metacarpal bone and the carpal bone.

Zhizheng SI-7

Zhizheng SI-7

5 cun proximal to the wrist, on the line joining Yanggu SI-5 and Xiaohai SI-8.

Bingfeng SI-12

Bingfeng SI-12

In the center of the suprascapular fossa, directly above Tianzong SI-11. When the arm is lifted, the point is at the site of the depression.

Jianwaishu SI-14

Jianwaishu SI-14

3 cun lateral to the lower border of the spinous process of the 1st thoracic verrtebra (T1), on the vertical line drawn from the levator scapulae muscle.

Qubin GB-7

Qubin GB-7

Within the hairline anterior and superior to the auricle, about 1 finger-breadth (0.5 cun) anterior to Jiaosun TB-20 which is on the apex of the ear.

Fubai GB-10

Fubai GB-10

Posterior and superior to the mastoid process, at the junction of the upper third and the two lower thirds of the curved line connecting Tianchong GB-9 and Wangu GB-12.

Touqiaoyin GB-11

Touqiaoyin GB-11

Posterior and superior to the mastoid process, on the line connecting Tianchong GB-9Fubai GB-10 and Wangu GB-12.

Jianjing GB-21

Jianjing GB-21

Midway between Dazhui DU-14 and the lateral extremity of the acromion, at the highest point of the shoulder.

Yanglingquan GB-34

Yanglingquan GB-34

In the depression anterior and inferior to the head of the fibula.

Xuanzhong GB-39

Xuanzhong GB-39

3 cun above the tip of the external malleolus, in the depression on the anterior border of the fibula.

Waiguan TB-5

Waiguan TB-5

2 cun above Yangchi TB-4 at the dorsal wrist joint space, between the radius and ulna.

Xiaoluo TB-12

Xiaoluo TB-12

On the line joining the olecranon and Jianliao TB-14, midway between Qinglengyuan TB-11 and Naohui TB-13, 5 cun proximal to the olecranon. It is just on the lower end of bulge of the lateral head of triceps brachii when the forearm is in pronation.

Tianliao TB-15

Tianliao TB-15

Midway between Jianjing GB-21 and Quyuan SI-13, on top of the superior angle of the scapula.

Jiaosun TB-20

Jiaosun TB-20

Directly above the ear apex, within the hairline of the temple.

Ermen TB-21

Ermen TB-21

In the depression anterior to the supratragic notch and slightly superior to the condyloid process of the mandible. The point should be located and needled with mouth open. Tinggong SI-19 and Tinghui GB-2 are located below Ermen TB-21.

Lingtai DU-10

Lingtai DU-10

On the back midline, in the depression below the spinous process of the 6th thoracic vertebra (T6).

Qiangjian DU-18

Qiangjian DU-18

On the posterior midline, 1.5 cun above Naohu DU-17, midway between Fengfu DU-16 and Baihui DU-20.

Houding DU-19

Houding DU-19

On the head midline, 1.5 cun above Qiangjian DU-18 or 1.5 cun posterior to Baihui DU-20.

Qishe ST-11

Qishe ST-11

On the upper border of the clavicle, between the tendons of the sternal and clavicular heads of the sternocleidomastoid muscle.

Qihu ST-13

Qihu ST-13

About 4 cun lateral to the anterior midline, below the midpoint of the clavicle.

Bailao EX-HN-15

Bailao EX-HN-15

2 cun above the lower border of the spinous process of the 7th cervical vertebra (C7) and 1 cun lateral to the midline.

Binao LI-14

Binao LI-14

On the radial side of the humerus, superior to the lower end of deltoid muscle, on the line connecting Quchi LI-11 and Jianyu LI-15, 7 cun proximal to Quchi LI-11.

Futonggu KID-20

Futonggu KID-20

5 cun above the umbilicus, 0.5 cun lateral to the anterior midline.

Lieque LU-7

Lieque LU-7

Above the styloid process of the radius, about 1.5 cun proximal to the wrist crease (wrist joint space) in a V-shaped depression.