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Acupuncture for Frozen Shoulder

Frozen shoulder (adhesive capsulitis) is a painful and often misunderstood condition that can be highly debilitating. Symptoms may include shoulder, neck and arm pain and invariably, there is a loss of mobility or range of shoulder motion. Simply put it hurts, it hurts almost all of the time and you cannot move the shoulder well.

What is a frozen shoulder/adhesive capsulitis? To understand this problem, we need to know a little bit about the shoulder and how it works. The head of humerus rests in a tiny and relatively flat cup called the glenoid fossa. It’s at the end of your scapula, and it is smaller than a dime. The clavicle is also part of this joint. What holds the joint together are a couple of small ligaments, the joint capsule and the rotator cuff muscles.

Any injury to the joint (bone, ligament or muscle) within the region can cause pain to the shoulder. Practitioners respond to pain by splinting (immobilizing the shoulder.) If we stop using the shoulder for any reason, within weeks, the shoulder capsule and ligaments can shrink and sometimes develop scarring. These adhesions can limit the mobility within the shoulder. When you try to move as you normally do, the joint capsule prevents the motion resulting in pain and inflammation.

Treatment can range from NSAIDs, cortisone, traditional PT, OT, manipulation under anesthesia or surgical release.

Alternative or complementary approaches should also be considered. This article explores acupuncture treatment for adhesive capsulitis. Acupuncturists use a wide variety of approaches for this problem. Trigger point therapy, or the insertion of needles directly into painful points can be useful, but some prefer whole body approaches that treat not only symptoms but underlying causes.

During the examination, the practitioner wants to see what movement is available in the shoulder, neck and arm. Are you able to reach for the ceiling with your arm? Behind your back? Can you reach across the front of your body? Do your neck and forearm move freely? Any restrictions in mobility are noted. Then the practitioner gently palpates your whole body and marks the tender areas. Problems in the left shoulder region may be related to an issue in the right hip.

The Five Element approach to treatment has been proven highly effective. Both pain and the loss of mobility are a reflection of energetic blocks; places in the system where Qi and blood are not flowing freely. Five Element practitioners use akabane balancing or a meridian approach to restoring the balanced flow of Qi through the system. Corrections are made, and tender points are re-tested. Once significant reductions in palpation pain are experienced, Range of Motion (ROM) is retested. It is remarkable how well this combination works for reducing pain and restoring ROM.

David Frome, Physical Therapist, Advanced Rolfer and Five Element Acupuncturist is a recognized leader in the field of holistic therapies in the tristate region. He is now practicing in Montclair and Asbury Park, NJ. Call us now 973.509.8464 or schedule online at for your next appointment.

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This article appears in July's issue of Natural Awakenings Jersey Shore


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