Frozen Shoulder, Rotator Cuff Injury

Chinese Medicine for Shoulder Pain

Rescue Acupuncture’s resident acupuncturist Dr Caleb Mortensen has a lot of experience treating people with frozen shoulder, rotator cuff injuries, torn biceps, inflamed bursa, and whole host of other related injuries. My teacher Katsuhiko Okuma Sensei used to tell me that in Japan they had a saying, ’50 nen-no-kata’ or ’50 year shoulder’. This is because of the tendency for this injury to arise at around the age 50.  Of course in true Japanese style, if you get it when you are only 40, then its ’40 nen-no-kata’.

Acupuncture and Frozen Shoulder

Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine is an effective treatment of Frozen Shoulder or Adhesive Capsulitis as well as Rotator Cuff Injury and other neck and shoulder pain. Whenever there is pain and stiffness in the body, or even where there is restricted movement, perhaps because of inflammation, acupuncture can bring about a positive result that has staying power.  Frozen shoulder from a Chinese Medicine perspective is often related to Yin weakness. This is often a condition that has built up over time, slowly chipping until the shoulder weakens. Often there will be some minor incident to fully trigger this condition, but this will just be, as  they say, the straw that broke the camels back. Even though the exact location of the injury can vary from the front of the shoulder to the back, this underlying degenerative process remains in place. The good news is this is often repairable.

Fixing Painful Shoulders

When patients complain of painful shoulders we know that acupuncture and moxibustion can really help with their condition but a few details must be gathered first for proper diagnosis and hence better treatment. The extent of the injury, how long has the patient had it, what other conditions they might suffer from, how restricted are their movements and in which direction. Because our shoulders do not exist independently of our bodies, we may ask some other questions about general health, sleep and digestion.  Only once a complete history is taken and a diagnosis has developed can treatment begin to take place.

Shoulders and Elbows

Its not uncommon for people who have had trouble with one shoulder to later develop Tennis Elbow and in 20% of the cases, the other shoulder will deteriorate. Unfortunately this usually happens with those misguided people who attempted to fix their former problem with pain killers alone or even by surgical intervention. The reason they continue to develop these upper body joint issues is because the underlying problem was never fixed. This is where a deeper understanding of the human body, not just a physiological one but one which understands the inner processes that evolve over time, over our lifetimes.

The Hard Evidence

Despite my own positive clinical experience treating shoulders whether it be frozen shoulder or adhesive capsulitis, the hard evidence is still not there. In a Cochrane review published in 2005 there still was not enough research to prove one way or the other for acupuncture and shoulder pain. The only positive thing they mention is that acupuncture may improve factors such a s pain and mobility in the short term. This is already an aging study and hopefully we might get an update on this painful condition soon.


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