Acupuncture for frozen shoulder? Well, this form of traditional Chinese medicine may be the silver lining in relieving your shoulder pain.
It consists of inserting thin needles on specific “acupoints” of the body to promote natural healing. (1)
Acupuncture treatments are often painless – contrary to what you may think – and current research shows they can offer several benefits for frozen shoulder.
We’ll discuss 5 evidence-based benefits and other things to keep in mind before undergoing acupuncture treatments.
Here’s what we’ll cover. Tap on any of these topics to go to its section:
- 5 proven benefits of acupuncture for adhesive capsulitis
- Different forms of acupuncture
- Risk of any acupuncture treatment
- Things to consider before going to an acupuncture treatment
- Other treatments for frozen shoulder
Or keep reading to learn about:
5 proven benefits of acupuncture for frozen shoulder
1) Can relieve shoulder pain
Among other things, acupuncture treatment releases endorphins – our body’s natural pain killers. It does this by stimulating acupoints. (1)
According to traditional Chinese medicine, acupoints are specific areas of our body where energy is concentrated.
These are distributed throughout meridians – communication pathways where our vital energy, or “Qi,” flows freely. (2)
The theory behind acupuncture therapy is that disease happens because our Qi is unbalanced in certain meridians. So, acupuncturists target acupoints to restore this balance, reduce pain, and promote well-being.
2) May improve your sleep
Experiencing daily shoulder pain and stiffness can take a big toll on our bodies. Especially when it starts to affect our sleep habits.
Sadly, sleep loss is extremely common in frozen shoulder patients. Apart from making you sluggish, lack of sleep can make you prone to anxiety and depression, making it much harder to recover from adhesive capsulitis. (3)
The good thing is that acupuncture is a natural way to manage this. See, this therapy can stimulate serotonin, a hormone that helps you sleep better.
Serotonin is your “feel-good” hormone.
It has a role in controlling your mood swings. And, it’s also needed to make your “sleepy hormone” – melatonin. (4)
Stimulation from acupuncture treatments can improve your serotonin levels. This can make your days feel a bit better and your nights cozier.
3) Can boost your immune system
Some researchers believe that frozen shoulder can happen from an abnormal reaction of your immune system. (5)
See, right after a fresh injury, your body will send inflammatory hormones to the site – say, your shoulder. This is a natural process that inevitably results in pain and swelling, forcing you to rest to let the shoulder heal.
Ironically, if this process goes on longer than it should, it can transform into chronic inflammation. This damages your joint capsule, leading to adhesions, scar tissue, and more shoulder pain.
But acupuncture treatment can boost your immune system. (1) This can help manage the inflammatory process, reducing potential damage to your shoulder joint.
4) May improve healing and recovery
The truth is that even without medical treatment, frozen shoulder often resolves on its own. But, the downside is that it can take up to 3 years before full recovery happens. (6)
Yet, your shoulder tissues need the right amount of nutrients to self-heal. This happens thanks to good blood circulation. It facilitates the arrival of repairing cells and nutrients to the injured area, promoting healing.
The good news is that acupuncture treatment can improve the local blood flow. (7) This means more nutrients, thus an enhanced healing process.
5) Can decrease joint stiffness
As frozen shoulder progresses, scar tissue and adhesion build-up restrict your range of motion, leading to more pain. External rotation – turning your arms outwards – tends to be the most limited movement.
However, research points to acupuncture combined with stretching as a way to bring about your shoulder’s normal range. (8)
See, right after an acupuncture session, your pain tolerance may increase due to the endorphins. (1) This small window of time is a great way to perform stretching exercises and improve your shoulder range of motion.
Different forms of acupuncture therapy
As the practice of acupuncture spreads throughout the world, it has taken different forms:
The most common form of acupuncture as its usually seen in films/movies.
Here, an acupuncturist uses small fine needles to pierce local and distal acupoints around your body. Each treatment course lasts for 30-45 minutes and needles are left on your body during the whole session.
Trigger point acupuncture
A western twist of traditional Chinese medicine and commonly known as “dry needling.”
Instead of acupoint and “Qi”, trigger points around muscle fibers are “released” by probing a needle on it. Trigger points are irritable, palpable lumps coming from tight muscles.
A muscle “twitch” corresponds to the release of a trigger point, relieving pain and improving range of motion.
This alternative medicine uses manual pressure to stimulate energy pathways in our body, known as meridians. Doing so can induce relaxation and pain relief.
To put it simply, it applies the same principles of traditional acupuncture without the use of needles.
In this form, the acupuncturist attaches wires to the needles. These wires are connected to an electrical current, allowing for therapeutic electrical stimulation.
This may bring more pain-relieving hormones to your painful shoulder. The frequency and intensity of the electrical current can be changed depending on your comfort level.
Laser acupuncture works the same way as the traditional form. But instead of using needles, the therapist uses a laser to stimulate the acupoints, which can improve the energy flow.
In place of needles are mugwort leaves, which are burnt in specific meridian points. The resulting heat improves the flow of vital energy, which may ease the symptoms of frozen shoulder.
What are the risks of acupuncture?
As with any type of treatment, acupuncture carries its own risk as well. Some of them are (9):
- Minor bleeding.
- Nerve damage due to wrong needle placement.
- Infection from poor sterilization of needles.
- Allergic skin reactions like swelling, redness, and itchiness.
Going to a licensed acupuncturist will drastically lessen the chance of experiencing such risks.
Things to consider before going to an acupuncture treatment
Choose a licensed acupuncturist
It takes years and a professional license to practice safe and effective acupuncture.
But some individuals include acupuncture treatment in their services at a bargain price. Unfortunately, most of them only learn it through online/weekend courses.
So, for your safety and peace of mind, book your treatment from a licensed acupuncturist.
Schedule your treatment during off-days
Relaxation is the name of the game for acupuncture. Placing your treatment during a hectic workweek easily wears off its effect on your frozen shoulder.
Focusing your mind on healing will make a huge difference in your recovery.
Pro tip: Book your appointment during weekends, or when things are more manageable in your schedule.
Wear loose-fitted clothing
Although the shoulder is easily accessible with a shirt, some popular acupoints for frozen shoulder are located at your upper back.
So, choose loose-fitting and comfortable clothes for your session. It will make it easier for your therapist to proceed with the treatment.
Stay away from caffeine
One mechanism of acupuncture relies on turning on your parasympathetic system, the part of your brain that allows you to rest and relax.
But, drinking caffeinated drinks before your acupuncture session can stimulate your brain. It may increase your heart rate, blood pressure, alertness, and anxiety. (10)
All these effects can make it harder for your brain to transition into a relaxed state, leading to an unsatisfactory session.
Other treatments for frozen shoulder
Corticosteroid is a type of anti-inflammatory drug used to treat muscle aches and pains.
As a treatment of frozen shoulder, this involves injecting corticosteroid directly into your shoulder capsule. Its effects are almost immediate.
It can be safe and effective in relieving pain and increasing the range of motion of frozen shoulder patients with less than 6 months of duration. (11)
Physical therapy involves manual treatments and exercises to optimize your movement. In the case of frozen shoulder, this involves:
- Shoulder joint mobilization to relieve pain and inflammation.
- Series of stretches to improve range of motion.
- Strengthening of your rotator cuff muscles.
- Posture drills to prevent other shoulder conditions.
- Home treatments you can do during your downtime from rehab.
This will help: 14 exercises to do at home for treating frozen shoulder.
Shoulder joint manipulation under anesthesia
For this treatment, your surgeon will put you under anesthesia to forcibly move your arm. This will break the scar tissue that limits your range of motion.
Patients with severe joint stiffness and restricted range of motion benefit the most from this procedure.
Further reading: Other operative treatments for frozen shoulder.
Is acupuncture effective for frozen shoulder?
Yes. Acupuncture can decrease capsule inflammation and may reduce pain.
How to feel immediate pain relief from a frozen shoulder?
Take over-the-counter medications like NSAIDs and aspirin. They take effect in as little as 15 minutes. But talk to your doctor first before taking them to make sure they’re safe for you.
How long does it take for acupuncture to work on a frozen shoulder?
This varies from person to person. Some people need a couple of acupuncture sessions, while others may need to continue for months.
What is the difference between adhesive capsulitis and frozen shoulder?
None – they are different terms for the same condition.
Conclusion: Acupuncture for adhesive capsulitis
- Acupuncture is a great nonoperative option for frozen shoulder recovery.
- If you’re scared of needles, there are other forms of acupuncture therapy that can still work for you.
- The things you do before and after your session makes an impact on how well you’re body recovers.
If you found this guide helpful, don’t hesitate to share it with your friends and family!
- Hao, Jason Jishun, and Michele Mittelman. “Acupuncture: past, present, and future.” Global advances in health and medicine vol. 3,4 (2014): 6-8. DOI: 10.7453/gahmj.2014.042
- Li, Fang et al. “What is the Acupoint? A preliminary review of Acupoints.” Pain medicine (Malden, Mass.) vol. 16,10 (2015): 1905-15. DOI: 10.1111/pme.12761
- Ding, Huairong et al. “A report on the prevalence of depression and anxiety in patients with frozen shoulder and their relations to disease status.” Psychology, health & medicine vol. 19,6 (2014): 730-7. DOI: 10.1080/13548506.2013.873814
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- Cho, Chul-Hyun et al. “Biological Aspect of Pathophysiology for Frozen Shoulder.” BioMed research international vol. 2018 7274517. 24 May. 2018, DOI: 10.1155/2018/7274517
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- Wei, Yan-Hui et al. “Therapeutic efficacy of acupuncture combined with neuromuscular joint facilitation in treatment of hemiplegic shoulder pain.” World journal of clinical cases vol. 7,23 (2019): 3964-3970. DOI: 10.12998/wjcc.v7.i23.3964
- Ernst, E. “The risks of acupuncture.” The International journal of risk & safety in medicine vol. 6,3 (1995): 179-86. DOI: 10.3233/JRS-1995-6305
- Moré, Ari O et al. “Caffeine at Moderate Doses Can Inhibit Acupuncture-Induced Analgesia in a Mouse Model of Postoperative Pain.” Journal of caffeine research vol. 3,3 (2013): 143-148. DOI: 10.1089/jcr.2013.0014
- Koh, Kim Hwee. “Corticosteroid injection for adhesive capsulitis in primary care: a systematic review of randomised clinical trials.” Singapore medical journal vol. 57,12 (2016): 646-657. DOI: 10.11622/smedj.2016146