Acupuncture Can Help Avoid Surgery For Chronic Shoulder Pain

In the past few weeks, at my acupuncture clinic, there has been an increase in patients coming in for the treatment of shoulder pain. I would not call it an epidemic, but I have noticed more patients mentioning it.

These patients report having trouble reaching back to put on a seat-belt, putting a jacket on, overhead motions, limitations on exercise and a general reduction in a day to day function – the ‘activities of daily living.’ You take for granted how difficult it is to operate with one functioning arm!


What Causes Shoulder Pain?

The shoulder is prone to injury due its structure and function. As a ball and socket joint, there is more mobility, therefore, more chance for injury.

Key structures around the shoulder include – the biceps tendon and the rotator cuff muscles (the Supraspinatus, Infraspinatus, Teres Minor, Subscapularis) which help to move and stabilize the shoulder.1


Without these structures, the arm would dislocate out of the socket. Aside from looking strange, and making your arm very ineffective, it is quite painful to dislocate a shoulder.

Some of the conditions I treat in my acupuncture clinic include – frozen shoulder, bicep tendonitis, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, bursitis, cervical radiculopathy, thoracic outlet syndrome, and impingement syndromes.


These are all conditions that are more chronic in nature and illustrate a change in function of the shoulder joint. The shoulder just does not work like it should.

Most of these conditions are the result of inflammation of the soft tissue structures of the shoulder girdle – the ligaments, tendons, and muscles. Frozen shoulder results when pain causes a lack of use, and the reduction in mobility ‘freezes’ the shoulder joint.


Shoulder Pain Treatments

Conventional treatment of shoulder pain includes – NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatories), ice/heat, rest, physical therapy, cortisone injection, and in some cases, surgery.

Unfortunately, there are limitations with all of these options. Rest, ice/heat are the first lines of defense, but only provide temporary relief. NSAIDs should only be taken for about 10 days because they can have a negative impact on the stomach; potentially causing ulcers, bleeding, and Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD).


Cortisone injections reduce pain by reducing inflammation. They are not considered as pain relievers. Cortisone injections may provide quick relief, but the results are mixed. Repeated cortisone injections to the same area may weaken cartilage, ligament, and tendons.2

Acupuncture Treatment For Shoulder Pain

Acupuncture treatment focuses on reducing inflammation, improving blood flow and decreasing pain. It excels at treating the chronic, nagging type injuries that do not respond well to conventional treatment.


Acupuncture involves the insertion of thin, pre-sterilized needles in various areas of the body to elicit a response. It stimulates the release of the opioids (pain killing chemicals) as well as adenosine – a natural painkiller with anti-inflammatory properties.3

Unlike a cortisone injection, which is given directly to the injured area, acupuncture needles do not have to be placed in an already injured area. By using a style of acupuncture that focuses on distal treatments (ie away from painful areas), we can achieve results without causing any additional discomfort.


How Well Does Acupuncture Work?

In a 2010 study comparing acupuncture to conventional orthopedic treatments, the acupuncture group fared far better. At the three months follow-up, the acupuncture group had a recovery rate of 65% vs. 37% for the orthopedic group.4 Acupuncture is a safe, natural and effective way to treat shoulder problems. So, do not ‘shoulder’ the burden of pain anymore!