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Treating Frozen Shoulder (50+ shoulder) with Acupuncture

“Where there is stagnation, there is pain. Where there is no stagnation, there is no pain.”

– Ancient Chinese Proverb

A common ailment for people between 40-60 years old is frozen or stagnant shoulder, otherwise known as adhesive capsulitis. Frozen shoulder is characterized by stiffness, pain, and limited range of motion in the shoulder joint. The exact cause of frozen shoulder is not fully understood, but factors such as injury, surgery, systemic disease, age, and gender can all be contributing factors. Treatment choices include physical therapy, acupuncture, medications, steroid injections, and surgery. 

One of the best treatments for frozen shoulder is consistent acupuncture treatment. Aside from being one of the least invasive treatments, acupuncture can help to reduce pain and inflammation in the shoulder without the risk of complications, improve circulation, and enhance range of motion for a more comfortable use of your arm.   

How can it help?

Acupuncture stimulates the release of endorphins and other neurotransmitters, which help reduce pain. By inserting needles at specific points, acupuncture can help modulate the body’s pain response, providing relief from the chronic pain associated with frozen shoulder. 

Studies have shown that acupuncture can be effective in reducing pain and improving shoulder mobility in patients with frozen shoulder. Combining acupuncture with other therapies, such as physical therapy, can be especially effective and yield the best results for managing frozen shoulder.

What will acupuncture do?

Acupuncture can help in a number of ways.

Reducing inflammation: Acupuncture can influence the body’s inflammatory processes. By targeting specific points, acupuncture can help reduce inflammation in the shoulder joint, which is a key factor in the stiffness and pain of frozen shoulder. 

Improving blood circulation: The insertion of needles can enhance local blood flow. Improved circulation helps deliver oxygen and nutrients to the affected area, promoting healing and reducing stiffness in the shoulder by potentially aiding in the gradual breakdown of scar tissue.

Releasing muscle tension and tightness: Acupuncture can help relax tight muscles around the shoulder. This relaxation can improve range of motion and reduce strain and discomfort associated with muscle stiffness and tension, making it easier to perform stretching and strengthening exercises which can aid in addressing the stiffness caused by shoulder adhesions.

Balancing Qi (energy flow):  According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), acupuncture helps balance the body’s energy flow (Qi). Blockages or imbalances in Qi can lead to pain and dysfunction. By restoring the proper flow of Qi, acupuncture aims to address the underlying causes of frozen shoulder. 

Neurological effects: Acupuncture can affect and stimulate the nervous system, by stimulating the release of endorphins and other neurotransmitters, reducing the perception of pain and improving motor function. This can help in regaining mobility and reducing the functional limitations caused by frozen shoulder.

What can I expect?

A licensed acupuncturist will frequently use both local shoulder and distal acupuncture points to help restore shoulder function. Unlike Western medicine, Traditional Chinese Medicine can treat the body with acupuncture points away from the site of pain if necessary. This is based on TCM theory, in which the body has a network of meridians/channels through which Qi energy flows. Distal points are located along these meridians, sometimes far from the site of pain or dysfunction (think about when you scratch your arm, but you feel a connecting sensation elsewhere on your body). 

Stimulating distal points as well as local shoulder points allows an acupuncturist to influence the flow of Qi along the entire meridian, addressing issues at both the local and distal ends of the pathway. This can be very useful when direct needling at the site of pain is too sensitive, hard to access, or just not possible.

It is important to receive treatment from a licensed and experienced acupuncturist to ensure safety and effectiveness of care. Our office has 20+ years of experience treating a variety of pain syndromes, and we would love to help you get out there and enjoy your life with less pain and more mobility. Give us a call!