Evergreen Acupuncture & Herbs

Health Education Articles

Acupuncture For Shoulder Pain

By Kimberly Guorong Du

Shoulder pain is a common problem for people around fifties. It affects the joint, and may involve a non-specific chronic inflammatory reaction. If the doctor asks the patient to stretch his arm, bend his elbow, and use one hand to hold his wrist and another hand to pull his elbow from inside out, the patient usually complains about pain. In traditional Chinese medical (TCM) term, it is called "Shoulders for the 50's.".

If the pain lasts too long, the inflammation may thicken the lining of the capsule in which the joint is contained and then the joint becomes adhesive. Thus this disease would limit the movement of a person's shoulder. In severe cases, the shoulder may be completely rigid and pain may be extremely intense. It is also called "Frozen shoulder" in TCM, same as conventional medicine.

Conventional medical books describes this disease as follows: "the problem usually develops for no known reason, but in some cases it follows a minor injury to the shoulder, a stroke, chronic bronchitis, or angina pectoris", "herpes zoster (shingles)", and "there is a higher-than-average incidence among people with diabetes mellitus."

Traditional Chinese medicine considers human health as facing the tensions created by opposing forces in nature, the Yin and Yang. Acupuncture treatment aims to restore balance between the opposing energy forces. A concept of vital energy flow linking circulation to neurological function is fundamental to the practice of acupuncture. The vital life energy, Chi, is thought to flow through a set of interconnected channels, called meridians, which follow a circadian rhythm.

According to TCM, pain in the shoulders is caused by Chi and blood blockage. It is mainly believed that excessive use or injury would decrease the regional skin defense. The pathogenic factors of wind, cold, and dampness invaded the patient's body through his skin, which results stasis of Chi and blood in the channels. The blockage of Chi and Blood leads to pain and stiffness.

Acupuncture has been used for the treatment of clinical disorders in China for several thousand years. It is an effective and safe treatment option that can release pain and enhance the speed and degree of recovery.

Classical acupuncture usually selects local, distal, and tender (ashi) points to treat should pain according to the course of the meridians. The purpose of this method is to relax the muscles, disperse pathogenic factors such as excess wind, cold, and dampness, remove obstruction in the affected meridians and their collaterals, and regulate the Chi and blood. A combination of local and distal classic Chinese acupoints is commonly used for the treatment of shoulder pain. For frozen shoulders, patients must do proper functional exercise everyday to restore movement.

For the most severe cases, the shoulder may be completely rigid. If this happens the general anesthetic may be used to manipulate the joint in order to restore mobility. Nevertheless, this treatment may increase the patient's pain initially. In order to avoid this happening the patient should start acupuncture treatment as soon as possible. Besides acupuncture, cupping and moxibustion are standard methods too. Herbal may be used as well. For most patients after 3~10 treatments, the shoulder pain will disappear. But in severe cases, patients need much more treatments.