One of the most common muscular complaints I see in clinic is a frozen shoulder. This can occur any time of the year, but I most regularly see them develop around winter. In Western Medicine it is not fully understood why it occurs, as the soft tissue around the shoulder capsule becomes inflamed and stiff. It develops slowly over time, and sometimes self resolves in months or years. Extreme cases can require surgery.
According to Acupuncture, frozen shoulder develops from an invasion of wind-cold which blocks the flow of Qi and blood in the tissue around the shoulder. This causes restriction and pain. Often I hear of patients who have been at the beach in warm weather, and then a cool change comes through, and they wake up with a sore shoulder the next day. This is a wind-cold invasion, its similar how you catch a chill in your neck or develop bell’s palsy in winter. Either you are exposed to extreme weather, or you over work the muscles in the gym and cold invades at the end of your workout while you are sweating. Factors like stress and fatigue can weaken your Qi, which cannot protect the muscle from a cold invasion. Sometimes the body can expel the cold on its own, but most of the time the cold stagnates and freezes up the entire joint.
Common symptoms of frozen shoulder are:
- restricted range of movement, developing suddenly or over weeks
- sharp localised pain in the front or rear of shoulder when lifting your arm up
- a numbness or cold feeling in your shoulder with decreased range of movement
- Increase in shoulder stiffness but a decrease in the pain
Frozen shoulder can become a chronic condition and can take years to resolve. If you feel you are experiencing these early signs then seek medical advice immediately. The sooner we can commence treatment, the better your prognosis of full recovery!
Western Medicine’s Treatment Approach
I see many patients come in for treatment after having several unsuccessful cortisone injections, or surgery on their frozen shoulders. People need to realise these therapies do not always provide long term relief. They can help reduce the inflammation or flush out the solidified joint capsule, but the body cannot always carry on the healing from there. There has to be a deficiency in the body for the injury to occur initially, and for it not to be healing on its own. Acupuncture has been shown to be a good alternative to Cortisone injections and invasive surgery for frozen shoulder. Another research paper also confirms Acupuncture is effective for frozen shoulder can help increase joint mobility.
How Dr. Steven Treats Frozen Shoulder with Acupuncture
I have treated many cases of frozen shoulder over my 10+ years of practice. I always find that the sooner a patient seeks treatment for it, the better the prognosis. A frozen shoulder can become so severe that the fluid within the joint capsule becomes jelly, and the only option is surgery. Do not let it come to this! Acupuncture is very useful for treating frozen shoulder as the needles are able to get to the required depth to remove the inflammation from the joint capsule. Moxa is burned on special points on the shoulder to help expel the deeply lodged cold which is freezing up the joint. I also employ the use of electro-acupuncture, which provides stronger stimulation to the shoulder joint to try and get qi and blood flowing again. Initially the patient will experience a decrease in the level of pain, then we work on improving range of motion. As part of the treatment plan, patients also need to do exercises at home, ideally in the shower to help increase their shoulder movement.
Management and Prevention of Frozen Shoulder
- Avoid exposures to cold winds on your bare skin, especially if at the beach or following warm weather
- Keep the shoulder warm and moving
- When showering, slowly walk your hand up the wall to increase range of movement in your shoulder
- Do exercises like Yoga and Pilates which help strengthen joints and improve flexibility
- Don’t be complacent hoping it will heal itself, seek medical advice if it is not improving!