Acupuncture for Frozen Shoulder

Acupuncture for Frozen ShoulderFrozen shoulder is also known as adhesive capsulitis and is characterised by inflammation and adhesions that restrict movement and cause pain of the shoulder. Classically frozen shoulder pain gets worse at night. There may possibly be a history of an injury to the shoulder such as an infraspinatous tear, but commonly there has just been a gradual onset of symptoms.

Commonly, there are three phases

                  1. Pain with stiffness
                  2. Less pain, severe stiffness
                  3. Minimal pain, gradual increase in mobility

Without treatment, the shoulder usually gets better but it can take up to 3 years to fully resolve but commonly can resolve itself in 18 months.

Western medicine has little to offer for treatment. In fact, nearly 30 years ago the Department of Rheumalogy Research in Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge, concluded that there is little long term advantage in using any of the treatments available at the time which were intra-articular steroids, mobilizations and ice therapy. Surprisingly, these are still the methods of treatment used today, 30 years later by doctors and physiotherapists.

Acupuncture on the other hand has had over 2000 years experience of treating frozen shoulder. In desperation, many patients have sought acupuncture therapy in the rehabilitation of frozen shoulder after failure of steroid injections and a worsening of the condition after aggravation from the physiotherapy exercises and mobilization procedures.

Modern research has also confirmed the efficacy in the role of acupuncture in frozen shoulder. In fact, as quoted from a recent Hong Kong Medical Journal

This study provides additional data on the potential role of acupuncture in the treatment of frozen shoulder, particularly for those patients not responding well to conventional therapy.

Recent New Zealand research by Christchurch acupuncture physician, Suzanne Tapper has also demonstrated how effective acupuncture can be for frozen shoulder. An orthopaedic specialist when reviewing the MRI-findings confirmed

that there were clinically significant structural changes associated with resolution of frozen shoulder

What is interesting about the research done by Suzanne Tapper is that one of the main acupuncture points used for frozen shoulder was on the outside of the leg, below the knee. This acupuncture point known as tiankou St-38 has had an empirical use documented being used with shoulder problems for hundreds of years. Patients receiving acupuncture for frozen shoulder are often surprised that acupuncture points are selected far away from the problem itself. For more information about why this is done, please go to the How Does Acupuncture Work page.

Acupuncture on shoulderStudies have shown that patients seeking acupuncture for frozen shoulder would require 8-12 sessions to benefit from longer term relief of pain. Further acupuncture treatment may be required to improve the range of movement and treat the stiffness. Factors such as, what stage of the problem did the patient seek acupuncture from the practitioner, age of the patient and other co existing problems like diabetes and high blood pressure would determine the speed of recovery.

In New Zealand, qualified acupuncturists who are members of the New Zealand Register of Acupuncturists Inc have all been assessed and are all qualified and experienced to use the traditional Chinese medicine modalities of moxibustion and cupping. Moxibustion and cupping are important adjuncts in an acupuncture practise especially in the treatment of frozen shoulder. In addition, many New Zealand Register of Acupuncturists members are qualified in tui na which can also greatly benefit the rehabilitation and recovery of frozen shoulder.

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About Heiko Lade

Hi, I'm Heiko Lade - qualified acupuncturist at The Acupuncture Clinic in Hastings, New Zealand. If you would like to make an appointment for a consultation and treatment, please contact me.


  1. What type of exercise are you doing, weights? Frozen shoulder traditionally usually does not have a history of injury. It sounds like you might have a shoulder infraspinatous sprain. If you are in Napier, I could see you but if you are based elsewhere, I suggest seeing a qualified acupuncturist. There is this journal article on frozen shoulder, you could refer the practitioner to that for ideas.

  2. Travis B says:

    I don’t know if i have frozen shoulder or its something else symptoms
    – pain worse at night
    – pain at the front of the shoulder and it feels like its a tendon
    – crunching noise on movement
    – pain when i exercise
    can you treat this ?

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