Stop Shoulder Pain

Acupuncture treats Shoulder Pain – Better and Faster

One of the prevailing myths about acupuncture, that gets repeated over and over especially in the media, is that “no one knows how acupuncture works.”  According to findings made by the National Institutes of Health (NIH consensus statement) acupuncture is, in fact,  one of the most researched practices, and there is more data to support acupuncture than many other commonly accepted medical procedures.

The findings in a recent study of Canadian postal workers with shoulder tendinitis (i) confirmed what I find to be true in my own practice:  Acupuncture does work better and faster for the pain relief and loss of motion associated with shoulder pain.  New, and substantive, research validates the fact that the use of acupuncture for the treatment of shoulder pain and disability should be initiated sooner, rather than later.

The Canadian postal workers were divided into two groups, one receiving physical exercise, a widely accepted treatment, and the second group receiving acupuncture and proteolytic enzymes. The acupuncture group made the greatest gains in pain reduction and disability scores.

Another study, which included a large group of 425 patients, compared patients receiving exercise and sham TENS (transcutaneous nerve stimulation) with a group receiving exercise and acupuncture consisting of a single point. (ii)  The single point acupuncture group reduced the need for analgesics by 53% the exercise group reduced the need by 30%. This represents an almost 50% better result with the acupuncture group. Imagine what the results would be if they received a more comprehensive and typical acupuncture treatment..

Frozen shoulder is very painful and debilitating.   Traditional Chinese Medicine calls it 50 year old shoulder.  Acupuncture, herbal/nutritional support, cupping can reduce pain and help restore motion.. Research comparing physical therapy/exercise with acupuncture in the treatment of frozen  shoulder (adhesive capsulitis) determined that acupuncture improved the patients’ shoulder disability scores most. The findings in the frozen shoulder group indicated that acupuncture was especially beneficial for pain management, and physical therapy best for increasing range of motion. Their conclusion was that the combination of acupuncture along with physical therapy would likely be the most effective treatment strategy. (iii)

Current allopathic (Western medicine) standards of care for shoulder pain consist of NSAID’s, physical therapy, corticosteroid injections, and possible surgery. One study acknowledged there was not enough clinically based evidence to support the use of physical therapy and other rehabilitation interventions, despite the fact that they are commonly accepted to be proven, are typically the first line of therapy, and are covered/reimbursed by insurance. (iv)

Rotator cuff tendinitis is a very common cause of shoulder pain, especially in people over the age of 40. It is also known as swimmer’s shoulder, pitcher’s shoulder, shoulder impingement, or tennis shoulder. It is often the result of repetitive activities or degenerative changes, but may be the result of an acute injury, especially in sports, or due to a fall. Signs and symptoms include:

  •   night pain, especially lying on the affected side
  •   pain with movement, especially reaching overhead
  •   localized shoulder pain, which may radiate up the neck or down the arm
  •   weakness with movement or lifting

Simple everyday activities that we take for granted, such as combing your hair, tucking your pants into your shirt, hooking a bra strap become painful and impossible to perform. Unmanaged pain can lead to muscle weakness or protective guarding (myofascial pain,frozen shoulder), and can complicate and inhibit full recovery.

As I tell my patients, the acupuncture needles can reach where fingers can’t. Pain from myofascial trigger points can mimic shoulder joint pathology. Myofascial trigger points have a 70+% correlation to acupuncture points (v), and are addressed as well in a typical treatment.

A Chinese Medical practitioner/Acupuncturist is a holistic practitioner. Lifestyle, diet, drug intake, and underlying metabolic factors that contribute to, or perpetuate, a patient’s symptoms will be evaluated and addressed. Diabetes and hyperthyroidism have demonstrated a correlation  with the incidence of frozen shoulder. (vi)  Drs. Travell and Simons, pioneers and recognized experts in the field of myofascial pain, have documented how nutritional imbalances are associated with persistent soft tissue pain and inflammation, which underlies the need for a more comprehensive approach to treatment. (vii)

I commonly recommend Omega-3 fatty acids and proteolytic (protein digesting) enzymes to help with inflammation and reduce the need for NSAID’s. Unlike drugs, which may only mask the symptoms and may lead to tissue breakdown, these are well tolerated for long term use and likely promote tissue healing. Herbal patches and poultices are great to relieve localized pain and not harm the digestive system. Herbs like tumeric, ginger, frankincense, and myrrh promote circulation and soft tissue healing.

Study after study demonstrates that the conventional wisdom in treating shoulder pain needs to be revised. All of the patients in acupuncture groups reported pain relief and made significant changes in their disability ratings. Multidisciplinary approaches achieved even better results.

The time is long overdue that acupuncture is incorporated into the mainstream as a first-line therapy in the management of shoulder pain. Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture promote full healing and not merely symptom reduction. Earlier intervention will save time, cost, and suffering.


(i) Szczurko, O et al., Naturopathic treatment of rotator cuff tendinitis among Canadian postal workers: a randomized controlled trial. Arthritis Rheum, 2009 Aug 15: 61(8):1037-45

(ii) Vas, J, et al., Single-point acupuncture and physiotherapy for the treatment of painful shoulder: a multicenter randomized controlled trial, Rheumatology 2008, Jun:47(6)887-93

(iii) Ma, T, et al., A study on the clinical effects of physical therapy and acupuncture to treat spontaneous frozen shoulder, American Journal of Chinese Medicine, 2006:34(5):759-75


(v) Melzak, R, et al., Trigger points and acupuncture points for pain: correlations and implications, Pain, 1977 Feb 3(1) 3-23


(vii) Simons MD, David, Myofascial Pain Syndrome due to Trigger Points, International Rehab Medicine Association Monograph, Series No.1, 1987, Nov:33-36

Category: Shoulder Pain

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