Frozen Shoulder


Frozen shoulder or adhesive capsulitis is very restrictive and painful. As the name suggests, it’s an adhesion or sticking of the folds of the shoulder joint capsule. The capsule is like a plastic covering the articulation of the humerus (arm bone) and scapulae (shoulder blade). In order for the shoulder to be able to move in all these amazing multiple directions, the capsule stretches and scrunches up where needed. In some of the places where the capsule scrunches up, it can adhere or stick together. It is not well understood why this occurs. Commonly a soft tissue injury and trauma to the shoulder can trigger it. There also seems to be an auto-immune component to frozen shoulder. There are risk factors that increase your chances of being affected. Some of these include: diabetes, stroke, lung disease, thyroid and heart disease. It usually lasts for one to three years. Recovery may occur spontaneously.

There are three stages of adhesive capsulitis:

  • Freezing – most painful stage. Lasts six weeks to nine months.
  • Frozen – adhesive stage with reduced range of motion. Usually lasts four to nine months.
  • Thawing – pain reduces and range of motion slowly improves. Lasts five months to two/three years.

Pain and restricted movement are probably the main features of this condition. People generally have difficulty with raising the arm to the side (abduction) and internal rotation (putting the arm behind the back) and external rotation. The result is that day-to-day tasks become more difficult, e.g. doing up a bra, putting on a shirt or even combing your hair. Sleeping is usually problematic as lying still and restricted movement seems to increase the pain. Most common age group is between 40–60 years of age.

How acupuncture can help you

Frozen shoulder is restrictive and shortens muscles, with many trigger points or painful nodules that develop in the rotator cuff and the muscles surrounding the shoulder joint. By using specific acupuncture points these taut bands can be released. This will provide some relief from the shoulder pain. Acupuncture also promotes blood flow. Having better vascular supply to the area means a better supply of oxygen, leukocytes cells and lymphatic flow to help heal the adhered tissue. Acupuncture has also been shown to give pain relief. As frozen shoulder is often a long-term condition (one to three years), reducing the pain aspect can be an important component to healing and wellbeing.

The frozen shoulder might be a secondary symptom to one of the risk factors mentioned above. The wonderful thing with acupuncture is that it treats the body holistically. By taking into consideration all of the other medical problems, the treatment can have a more profound effect on the frozen shoulder.

Remedial massage is also indicated for this condition. The manual stimulation of the muscles and connective tissue also helps increase blood flow and increases circulation to the tissue.

Light mobility exercises are also helpful in encouraging the range of motion of the shoulder.

Other management strategies:

  • Physical therapy
  • NSAIDs (non steroidal anti-inflammatories)
  • Corticoid steroids
  • Manipulation under general anaesthetic
  • Hydro dilation
  • Surgery


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