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Treating stiff neck and neck spasms with Acupuncture, Cupping & Moxibustion

Have you ever woken with a stiff neck or neck spasm? Neck stiffness, acute wryneck, torticollis and acute-non-specific neck pain are all common conditions that we see here in our Gold Coast clinic. The good news is that we may be able to help you alleviate some of the pain, reduce symptoms and provide advice on how to manage or prevent the condition from worsening. 


What is acute-wryneck, torticollis or acute-non-specific neck pain? 

It is not completely understood why it happens however it is a known condition that happens quickly, hence the word “acute”. In some cases, within minutes of waking up in the morning, your neck feels stiff and pain begins to intensify due to the spasm of surrounding neck muscles. The pain can be quite debilitating and extremely painful with sudden or slight movement. Your normal range of movement may be inhibited and often the position of your neck will be fixed in an abnormal position i.e. flexed forward and slightly rotated to the side, or with the chin slightly tilted upwards (different types of torticollis can be described depending on the position of the head and neck).  


Where is the location of pain? 

Pain is often present in the middle or side of the neck. The side that your neck is rotated towards will often be away from the sore side of pain. The muscles involved are usually a combination of the muscles outlined below: 

  • Sternocleidomastoid.
  • Trapezius.
  • Scalenes. 
  • Levator Scapula. 


When are you most likely to experience a stiff neck?

The exact cause is not understood, however below may be some causative factors: 

  • Sleeping in an awkward position. 
  • Uncomfortable pillow arrangement. 
  • Irritation of a facet joint – small swivel joints that allow for smooth gliding movements and turning. 
  • Jammed or locked facet joints – causing surrounding muscle spasms. 
  • Blunt trauma to the head and neck. 
  • Muscular trauma i.e over use, or agitation form exercise.


Traditional Chinese Medicine Wry neck or Torticollis Differential Causes:
  1.  Attack of wind or cold invasion on the nape/occiput, back of the neck (1)

Often associated with signs and symptoms of: 

  • Aversion to cold (3).
  • Runny nose with clear discharge (3).
  • Headaches (3).

    2. Muscular sprain (1,2), stagnation of qi or blood in neck: 

Often associated with an underlying Liver pathology diagnosis (1,2):

  • Liver Blood Deficiency; i.e. dizziness, blurred vision, lethargy.
  • Liver-Yang Rising; i.e. tinnitus, migraines, anger, irritability or insomnia.  
  • Liver Qi Stagnation; i.e. stress, emotional sensitivity, painful menstrual cycle, painful breasts in women.   


Why should you visit your GP if you have nausea or a fever.

Irrespective of whether the condition is viewed form a biomedicine or Chinese Medicine view point, if you are experiencing acute neck pain or spasm with the below signs and symptoms please visit your local GP or Doctor as further investigations may be required in cases of meningitis or encephalomyelitis etc. 

  • Headache.
  • Fever.
  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • Diarrhoea or severe abdominal pains. 


How acupuncture may be able relieve neck spasms, neck pain, wryneck or torticollis. 

The treatment strategy for Acupuncturists at Vyne Health are dependent on individual diagnosis. We take into consideration any history of car accidents, whiplash, trauma’s, stress and lifestyle postures at work etc. 

Once a diagnosis is determined your acupuncturist’s aim will focus on: 

  • Relieve pain.
  • Unblock any meridians/channels that are obstructed. 
  • Promote the circulation of Qi and Blood. 

Your acupuncturist will ask an array of questions to determine an underlying cause of why you are suffering with neck stiffness and pain and will then select specific acupuncture points to help alleviate your condition with a goal or preventing and reducing the risk of it occurring again. 

Techniques like glass cupping and moxibustion may be incorporated into your treatment plan to help speed up the healing process by softening and relaxing any residual stiffness in the neck and shoulder region. 

Infrared heat lamps will be used within your treatment to help enhance the anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects of acupuncture by promoting local blood circulation. It will also assist and increase local metabolism to help accelerate the excretion of metabolic products to relieve inflammation of the injured soft tissues and local muscular spasms as well as assist in pain reduction. 


To read supporting evidence of the effectiveness of Acupuncture for cervical dystonia, known as spasmodic torticollis, visit the link below (4). 

Effectiveness of acupuncture on torticollis



  1. Maciocia, G. (1994). The Practice of Chinese Medicine: The Treatment of Diseases with Acupuncture and Chinese Herbs. New York: Churchill Livingstone.
  2. McDonald, J. (1985). Zang Fu Syndromes: Differential Diagnosis and Treatment with Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine (1st Edition ed.). Sydney: New South Wales College of Natural Therapies.
  3. Peilin, S. (2002). The Treatment of Pain with Chinese Herbs and Acupuncture. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone.
  4. Deepak R, Matthew H, Koshy M, 2010, 'Effectiveness of acupuncture in cervical dystonia', BMJ Journals, vol. 28, Is. 2.