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Can Acupuncture Help With a Pinched Nerve in the Neck?

A pinched (compressed) nerve in the neck can cause severe pain, tingling, numbness, and muscle weakness in the shoulder, arm and hand. If you’re suffering from this common condition, you may be curious if acupuncture could help provide relief. Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese medical technique that involves inserting ultra-thin needles into specific points on the body. This is believed to relieve pain and treat health conditions by improving the flow of energy.

While more research is needed, initial studies suggest acupuncture may be beneficial for reducing pain and other symptoms caused by a pinched nerve in the neck. Read on to learn more about how acupuncture could help this painful condition.

What Is a Pinched Nerve in the Neck?

The nerves rooted in your cervical spine travel down your neck and into your arms and hands. A pinched nerve develops when too much pressure is applied to a nerve in the neck, often by nearby bones, muscles, tendons or discs. This can result from:

  • Herniated discs pushing against nerves.
  • Narrowing of the spinal canal (spinal stenosis) compressing nerves.
  • Injuries leading to inflammation/swelling that squeezes nerves.
  • Poor posture putting pressure on nerves.

When a nerve is compressed, its signals become disrupted, leading to issues like:

  • Sharp, shooting, burning pain in the neck that radiates down the arm.
  • Numbness or tingling in the shoulder, arm, or fingers.
  • Muscle weakness in the upper arm or hand.
  • Reduced range of motion in the shoulder or neck.

If untreated, compressed nerves can also cause muscle wasting over time. Relieving this pressure is key to resolving the symptoms.

How Acupuncture May Help

Though clinical evidence is limited, some studies suggest acupuncture may be useful for treating pinched nerves. Potential benefits include:

Pain Relief

Inserting needles into acupoints is believed to stimulate nerves in a way that closes pain gates in the spinal cord and releases natural pain-relieving chemicals like endorphins and serotonin. This central nervous system response may mute pain from a compressed nerve.

Reduced Inflammation

Acupuncture can reduce localized inflammation, swelling, and nerve irritation. This may ease pressure on the pinched nerve.

Improved Blood Flow

Enhanced circulation to the neck’s muscles, joints and nerves delivers oxygen and nutrients for healing while flushing out inflammatory chemicals. This optimized blood flow could help resolve neck issues contributing to the pinched nerve.

Increased Range of Motion

Studies show acupuncture improves neck mobility in people with chronic neck pain. This may take pressure off compressed nerves.

Relaxed Muscles

Tight neck muscles can compress nearby nerves. Acupuncture can reduce muscle tension and spasms to decrease pressure on nerves.

For example, a 2012 study published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine evaluated acupuncture’s effects on 60 patients with compressed spinal nerves. The real acupuncture treatment group experienced significant reductions in pain, numbness and tingling compared to sham acupuncture.

While more large studies are needed, this indicates acupuncture may have potential for successfully treating pinched nerves. Always discuss treatments with your doctor first.

What to Expect During Acupuncture

  • Acupuncture for nerve-related neck and arm pain often utilizes points on the hands, feet, legs, back, shoulders and neck.
  • The acupuncturist will insert very thin sterile needles into selected acupoints, aiming to stimulate nerves and muscles without causing extra nerve irritation.
  • Needles may be gently twisted or manipulated to maximize therapeutic benefit.
  • You relax on a table for 20-30 minutes as the needles do their work. The initial session determines effectiveness.
  • If acupuncture helps reduce your nerve pain and symptoms, follow-up appointments are scheduled, often weekly.
  • 10-12 sessions may be needed to get significant pain relief and maximize function.

Is Acupuncture Right for You?

Acupuncture takes time to work. You likely won’t see instant improvement after one session. But if performed properly, acupuncture is very low risk. Often it’s at least worthwhile to try several treatments to see if your pinched nerve pain starts to decrease.

Because nerves don’t easily heal on their own, finding effective therapies is critical. Acupuncture is appealing since it’s a non-invasive, drug-free option. Talk to your doctor to get their opinion on incorporating acupuncture into your pinched nerve treatment plan.

While benefits vary person to person, acupuncture is backed by medical research for relieving chronic neck and nerve pain. It activates natural self-healing and pain-relief mechanisms in the body. If other options aren’t providing sufficient relief for your pinched nerve, acupuncture could provide a much-needed alternative to finally address this frustrating, debilitating condition.