Acupuncture thaws frozen shoulder

Acupuncture is an effective treatment modality for the alleviation of frozen shoulder. Also termed adhesive capsulitis, frozen shoulder is characterized by shoulder pain and range of motion loss in the rotator cuff region. Arm movements become difficult and frozen shoulder often interferes with a peaceful night’s sleep. In a controlled experiment conducted at the Guangdong 999 Brain Hospital, researchers determined that acupuncture alleviates pain and restores range of motion to the shoulder for patients with frozen shoulder.


Primary acupuncture points were applied to all patients receiving acupuncture and secondary acupuncture points were selected based upon diagnostic considerations. The primary acupoints were the following:

  • LI15 (Jianyu)

  • TB14 (Jianliao)

  • SI9 (Jianzhen)

  • Jianqian (Extra)

  • GB34 (Yanglingquan)

  • ST38 (Tiaokou)

  • BL57 (Chengshan)

Secondary acupoints were as follows. For Hand-Yangming channel stimulation, the following acupoint was added:

  • LI3 (Sanjian)

For Hand-Shaoyang stimulation, the following was added:

  • TB3 (Zhongzhu)

For Hand-Taiyang stimulation, the following acupoint was added:

  • SI3 (Houxi)

For Hand-Taiyin stimulation, the following acupoint was added:

  • LU7 (Lieque)


The results demonstrate that acupuncture is an important therapeutic option for patients with frozen shoulder. All therapies (acupuncture, ESWT, and acupuncture plus ESWT) provided significant improvements for patients. The combination of acupuncture plus ESWT provided the greatest contribution to the improvement of positive patient outcomes. As a result, the researchers conclude that acupuncture plus ESWT is an effective protocol for the treatment of frozen shoulder.

Mo et al. (Zhejiang Hospital of Traditional Chinese Medicine) had similar findings. In their investigation, 157 patients with shoulder periarthritis characterized by adhesive capsulitis were randomly divided into 2 groups. Group 1 was comprised of 79 patients that received abdominal style acupuncture. The acupuncture points used on these patients were the following:

  • CV12 (Zhongwan)

  • KI17 (Shangqu)

  • ST24 (Huaroumen)

Group 2 was comprised of 78 patients that received acupuncture at the following local acupoints:

  • LI15 (Jianyu)

  • TB14 (Jianliao)

  • SI9 (Jianzhen)

Acupuncture was applied once per day at a rate of 3 times per week, for a total of 10 treatments. Patients receiving the local acupuncture points had a 71.8% total effective rate. Patients receiving abdominal acupuncture had a 92.4% total effective rate. The aforementioned research finds acupuncture effective for the treatment of frozen shoulder.

The salient findings are acupuncture’s proven ability to stop pain and to restore range of motion for patients with frozen shoulder. This underscores acupuncture’s ability to provide anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and recuperative effective actions. The contemporaneous development and implementation of allopathic medicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) presents challenges and advantages. While nosological distinctions between these diagnostic and treatment systems seems antinomic, the integration of both approaches to medicine produces significant positive patient outcomes as demonstrated in the aforementioned research. The challenge ahead is to protocolize allopathic and TCM therapies into integrated and accessible patient care that is made widely available in usual care settings.

The process involves 3 basic stages. Stage 1 is termed the freezing stage wherein range of motion decreases and pain gradually increases. Stage 2 is the frozen shoulder phase, stiffness rises to the level of interfering with many daily activities including brushing the hair, showering, and driving. Stage 3 is the healing phase, termed thawing, wherein range of motion increases and pain decreases.

Several procedures are often employed to stimulate thawing of frozen shoulder. ESWT and acupuncture were explored in the aforementioned research. Prescription and over-the-counter analgesics and anti-inflammatory medications are commonly prescribed or recommended by physicians. Corticosteroid injections into the shoulder and surgery (shoulder arthroscopy) are additional treatment options. Also, the injection of sterile water into the joint capsule of the rotator cuff (a procedure termed joint distension) is used to stretch tissue and increase mobility.

A physician may apply shoulder manipulation while the patient is under a general anesthetic. The physician moves the joint through varying directions to release adhesions for the purposes of resolving frozen shoulder. Since the patient is unconscious while the tissue adhesions are stretched or torn, the patient is able to withstand the procedure without discomfort. Acupuncture may be applied after shoulder manipulation to improve the recovery rate, prevent adverse effects, and to solidify treatment results.


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