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Acupuncture for
Frozen Shoulder

Does Acupuncture for Frozen Shoulder Work?

Elias Lu, DTCM,

Acupuncture Physician

Point of Cure Acupuncture and Electromedicine in Tampa Bay, Florida

Otherwise known as adhesive capsulitis, frozen shoulder is a frequent “visitor” in my practice. Inflammation, poor blood circulation to the area, and the resultant changes (adhesions) in the joint capsule lead to the typical symptoms: pain and restricted movement. Daily activities may become significantly impaired, affecting one's ability to perform routine tasks and even impacting sleep quality.

Woman touching her shoulder

Frozen shoulder unfolds gradually, progressing through several distinct phases: freezing, frozen, and thawing. Without timely intervention, resolution may take months to years. Everyday tasks become a burden. I should know … I had one in 2021.

 

Physical therapy is another approach to release the shoulder. It didn’t work for me. Ultimately, an injection into the shoulder joint may become necessary. For me, it did wonders. In severe cases where conservative measures fail to provide relief, surgical intervention such as manipulation under anesthesia or arthroscopic release may be necessary to break up adhesions and restore shoulder mobility.

 

Come acupuncture. This ancient Chinese medical practice offers a natural and highly effective approach to a multitude of health issues. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), frozen shoulder is perceived as a manifestation of Bi (Cold/Dampness) syndrome. From here follows that acupuncture should be at least somewhat effective in relaxing the rotator cuff muscles and improving the range of motion.

 

Studies do support acupuncture's efficacy in treating frozen shoulder. Research involving 40 patients demonstrated its superiority over physical therapy in pain reduction and shoulder mobility improvement. Another study highlighted the effectiveness of acupuncture combined with moxibustion, a heat therapy, in alleviating pain and enhancing shoulder function.

 

Now, that’s all academia. What about real life?

 

In practical application, while acupuncture may not yield as dramatic results as a shoulder injection, it remains effective. Some patients experience complete resolution after a few acupuncture sessions. Reports of "miraculous" recoveries, particularly in China, using distal acupuncture points like ST 38, are intriguing, though not universally observed. Perhaps more aggressive needle stimulation is warranted in these cases.

 

Nevertheless, I do think acupuncture is worth trying while waiting for a referral to interventional pain management or ortho. It is a safe, non-invasive and drug-free treatment option, which can be particularly beneficial for those who are looking for an alternative to medication or surgery. Even if a “miracle” cure does not happen, acupuncture can improve blood circulation in the shoulder area, decrease viscosity of the joint fluid, and reduce pain.

 

In conclusion, frozen shoulders are a complex and debilitating condition characterized by pain, stiffness, and limited range of motion in the shoulder joint. If you are experiencing frozen shoulder, acupuncture may be a useful option for you. For the best results, consult an experienced acupuncturist, preferably the one who practices evidence-based medical acupuncture. Avoid “miracle workers” who promise too much but deliver little.

The efficacy of acupuncture in treating musculoskeletal problems is supported by an expanding body of research. Studies, such as those by Lee et al. (2020), Pujalte et al. (2023), and Zhang & Wang (2020), highlight the effectiveness of acupuncture in addressing sports-related injuries, chronic pain, and various musculoskeletal conditions.

References

Ben-Arie, E., Kao, P. Y., Lee, Y. C., Ho, W. C., Chou, L. W., & Liu, H. P. (2020). The Effectiveness of Acupuncture in the Treatment of Frozen Shoulder: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine: eCAM, 2020, 9790470. https://doi.org/10.1155/2020/9790470

 

Heo, J. W., Jo, J. H., Lee, J. J., Kang, H., Choi, T. Y., Lee, M. S., & Kim, J. I. (2021). Electroacupuncture for the treatment of frozen shoulder: A protocol for systematic review and meta-analysis. Medicine, 100(51), e28179. https://doi.org/10.1097/MD.0000000000028179

 

Page, M. J., Green, S., Kramer, S., Johnston, R. V., McBain, B., & Buchbinder, R. (2014). Electrotherapy modalities for adhesive capsulitis (frozen shoulder). The Cochrane database of systematic reviews, (10), CD011324. https://doi.org/10.1002/14651858.CD011324

Disclaimer

This article was generated with the help of an AI writing tool and should be used for informational purposes only. We cannot guarantee the accuracy, completeness, or timeliness of the information provided. We recommend seeking qualified medical advice before acting upon the information presented.

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Dr. Elias Lu, DTCM is an acupuncture physician with Point of Cure Acupuncture and Electromedicine. In practice for over 25 years, he integrates traditional Chinese medicine with modern functional therapies to help people with chronic pain, trauma, neurodegenerative disorders, anxiety, depression, and many other life's challenges.

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