Evidence Based Oriental Medicine

How does acupuncture treat Frozen Shoulder?

What causes Frozen Shoulder?

Acupuncture is becoming more available in the United States. Physicians and insurance carriers often recommend this treatment as a conservative treatment option. When searching for a provider, look for someone with experience and education in the field.  

Contact the EBOM Team to learn more about how acupuncture can help you with Frozen Shoulder pain and overall better health.

The shoulder is one of the most mobile joints in the human body when working correctly. We use our shoulders for almost all movements we do with our upper extremities. Even small gestures like shaking hands with someone require our shoulders to do some of the work. When there is a problem, like a frozen shoulder, we quickly realize how much we use them. Simple tasks suddenly become painful and, in some cases, impossible to complete.

The primary goal in treating a Frozen Shoulder is to regain mobility. There are two conservative treatments most often used to reach this goal.

  • Physical Therapy – A physical therapist will work with the patient to move the patient’s arm while stretching the joint. If you are attending physical therapy, you will also receive stretching activities at home daily. Your therapist may also recommend heat alternating with ice applied to the area.
  • Medications – Someone with a frozen shoulder is likely experiencing pain and loss of mobility. Anti-inflammatory medications such as Ibuprofen or Naprosyn will help to ease the pain by bringing down inflammation in the area. Tylenol and other narcotics may block the brain from creating the pain sensation. These are especially helpful at bedtime or after a therapy session.

Acupuncture has been used for thousands of years in Chinese Medicine. The practice has been documented and refined over the years. Acupuncture is a standard of treatment in China. It is quickly becoming standard as a conservative approach in the U.S. Several medical studies have proved the effectiveness of acupuncture for Frozen Shoulder.

Acupuncture combined with Physical Therapy  -  A group of 75 patients diagnosed with Frozen Shoulder was evaluated. The patients were split into three different groups. The first group of 30 received physical therapy only. The second group of 30 was treated solely with acupuncture. The final 15 patients participated in both physical therapy and acupuncture. The 15 patients treated with both modalities had the best outcomes after the 2nd and 4th weeks of treatment.

Effects of Acupuncture for Shoulder Pain  -  A rheumatology clinic in Philadelphia assessed 31 patients who had experienced shoulder pain for over eight weeks. The patients were randomly assigned into three groups. One group received acupuncture according to Traditional Chinese Medicine. The second group was also treated with acupuncture but to standard points used for shoulder pain. The third group was administered fake acupuncture treatments. After six weeks, all groups were evaluated. The two groups treated with acupuncture scored significantly higher on the Shoulder Pain and Disability Index (SPADI). 

The shoulder is a joint called the glenohumeral joint. In this joint space, there is a socket called the glenoid and a ball at the end of the humerus bone. These two come together and allow the shoulder to have such a fantastic range of motion. When the shoulder becomes “frozen,” these two elements cannot move as they once did. They are locked into place by the inflammation and scarring of the tissue surrounding them. Adhesive Capsulitis is the medical term for Frozen Shoulder. It describes this thickening and stricture that prevents the shoulder from moving.

How does TCM view Frozen Shoulder?

A Frozen Shoulder does not develop suddenly. It is something that happens over time, and the exact cause varies. The arm may become immobilized when someone has an injury or surgery to the area. Since the joint is not moving, any scar tissue can form over the area. As this scar tissue, otherwise known as adhesions, continues to expand, the ball and socket cannot move freely. Other shoulder issues, such as inflammation of the tendons (tendonitis), can lead to the development of a Frozen Shoulder. When it does develop, it is painful and hurts a person’s quality of life. 

How is Frozen Shoulder typically treated?

How can acupuncture help those with Frozen Shoulder?

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) names frozen shoulder as a 50-year shoulder, as it happens most often in people over fifty. TCM focuses on the movement of energy throughout the body. This energy or QI sometimes becomes blocked. The element of cold is thought to block the flow of QI in the case of a Frozen Shoulder. Natural treatments such as acupuncture and herbal supplements treat the disorder by releasing the block.

Tips on choosing a TCM provider

Does acupuncture work?

When you receive acupuncture treatments, your practitioner will use thin needles to stimulate and move the energy within your body. The movement of the QI will provide pain relief and encourage the healing of the muscles in your shoulder. Your practitioner may combine your acupuncture treatments with moxibustion (heat) to release the cold from your shoulder. 

What is Frozen Shoulder?

Acupuncture at EBOM Evidence Based Oriental Medicine