Stiffness In Neck, Shoulder, And Upper Backaccording to TCM

What is Stiffness in Neck, Shoulder, and Upper Back?

Stiffness in the neck, shoulder, and upper back refers to a condition characterized by difficulty in moving these areas, often accompanied by pain and discomfort. This stiffness restricts normal range of motion, impacting daily activities. It can stem from various factors such as muscular tension, prolonged static postures, or underlying health conditions.

This symptom is commonly experienced by individuals engaged in desk jobs or those who frequently use electronic devices, leading to what is often termed as 'tech neck' or 'text neck.'

How does TCM view Stiffness in Neck, Shoulder, and Upper Back?

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) perceives stiffness in the neck, shoulder, and upper back as a manifestation of disharmony within the body's energetic system. TCM focuses on the flow of Qi (vital energy) and Blood through meridians, connecting different body parts.

Stiffness is often seen as a blockage or imbalance in these pathways, potentially caused by external factors like wind or cold, or internal issues such as emotional stress or organ dysfunctions. TCM treatments aim to restore balance and ensure the smooth flow of Qi and Blood.

Root Causes of Stiffness In Neck, Shoulder, And Upper Back in TCM

In TCM, stiffness in these areas is often attributed to the invasion of external pathogenic factors like Wind and Cold, leading to the obstruction of Qi and Blood flow. Prolonged exposure to such elements, especially in a weakened state, can cause this stiffness.

Internally, emotional stress and mental strain can lead to Liver Qi Stagnation, which in turn affects the smooth flow of Qi and Blood in the neck, shoulder, and upper back areas. TCM emphasizes addressing both the symptoms and the root causes, which may vary from external environmental factors to internal emotional and physical imbalances.

Explore below more details about what might cause Stiffness in neck, shoulder, and upper back according to TCM.

  • By Syndrome
  • By Organ
  • Qi Deficiency
  • Blood Deficiency
  • Yang Excess
  • Liver
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 Stiffness In Neck, Shoulder, And Upper Back

Pattern Name Relevant Symptoms Relevant Formulas
Painful Obstruction with Qi and Blood Deficiency Stiffness in the neck shoulder and upper back, Feeling of heaviness, Limb numbness, Difficulty in moving, Stiffness in neck, shoulder, and upper back, Periarthritis of the shoulder, Rheumatoid arthritis... see more Juan Bi Tang
Detailed description of the cause

Blood Deficiency

Blood Deficiency in TCM is like when your body's tank runs low on the vital energy that blood provides. It's not exactly the same as anemia in modern medicine, which is about having too few red blood cells. Instead, Blood Deficiency in TCM is about your body not having enough of the life-giving qualities that blood brings, like nourishment and moisture. This can make you feel tired, look pale, and even feel dizzy or have blurry vision. It's like a garden not getting enough water to stay lush and vibrant. TCM sees this as an imbalance where the body isn't being nourished as it should be, impacting overall health and well-being.... see more

Blood Deficiency Patterns That Can Lead to Stiffness In Neck, Shoulder, And Upper Back

Pattern Name Relevant Symptoms Relevant Formulas
Painful Obstruction with Qi and Blood Deficiency Stiffness in the neck shoulder and upper back, Feeling of heaviness, Limb numbness, Difficulty in moving, Stiffness in neck, shoulder, and upper back, Periarthritis of the shoulder, Rheumatoid arthritis... see more Juan Bi 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 Stiffness In Neck, Shoulder, And Upper Back

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

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

TCM Herbal Formulas for Stiffness In Neck, Shoulder, And Upper Back

TCM treatment for stiffness in these areas often involves herbal formulas designed to address the underlying patterns of disharmony. For instance, Juan Bi Tang, a formula that dispels Wind-Damp, is used to alleviate symptoms like stiffness and heaviness associated with Painful Obstruction with Qi and Blood Deficiency.

For conditions characterized by Liver Yang Rising, a common pattern associated with stress, formulas like Liu Wei Di Huang Wan, which nourish Yin and tonify Blood, are recommended. These treatments aim to restore the balance of Yin and Yang, ensuring the smooth flow of Qi and blood.

Explore below some TCM herbal formulas used to address stiffness in neck, shoulder, and upper back, organized by cause and by formula type.

  • By Cause
  • By Formula Type
  • Qi Deficiency
  • Blood Deficiency
  • Yang Excess
  • Formulas that nourish yin and tonify
  • Formulas that pacify and extinguish internal wind
  • Formulas that dispel wind-Damp
  • 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

All Formulas Recommended for Stiffness In Neck, Shoulder, And Upper Back Caused by Yang Excess

Formula Patterns Suitable For
Liu Wei Di Huang Wan Liver Yang Rising
Qi Ju Di Huang Wan Liver Yang Rising
Tian Ma Gou Teng Yin Liver Yang Rising
Ling Jiao Gou Teng Tang 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 nourish yin and tonify" recommended for stiffness in neck, shoulder, and upper back

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

All "formulas that pacify and extinguish internal wind" recommended for stiffness in neck, shoulder, and upper back

Formula Patterns Suitable For (if applicable)
Tian Ma Gou Teng Yin Liver Yang Rising
Ling Jiao Gou Teng Tang Liver Yang Rising

Acupoints for Stiffness In Neck, Shoulder, And Upper Back

TCM also employs acupuncture as a key treatment modality. Specific acupoints such as Zhongfu LU-1, located on the lateral aspect of the chest, can be targeted to alleviate stiffness. This point promotes the descending of Lung Qi and resolves Phlegm, which can contribute to easing tension in the upper body.

The selection of acupoints is tailored to individual symptoms and underlying TCM patterns, focusing on restoring balance and enhancing the body's natural healing abilities.

See more details below about Zhongfu LU-1, an acupoint used to address stiffness in neck, shoulder, and upper back.

  • By Meridian
  • Lung Channel
Zhongfu LU-1

Zhongfu LU-1

On the lateral aspect of the chest, in the 1st intercostal space, 6 cun lateral to the midline, 1 cun inferior to Yunmen LU-2. Below the acromial extremity of the clavicle, slightly medial to the lower border of the coracoid process.