Frozen shoulder

Frozen shoulder (adhesive capsulitis) is a common, painful, and sometimes disabling condition that can last for months or years. It affects around 2% of adults). The characteristic symptoms are pain, stiffness, and limitation of active and passive shoulder movements (particularly external rotation of the joint). They may be severe enough to interfere with everyday activity (e.g. driving, dressing, or sleeping), and may prevent some patients from working.

Some clinical trials suggest that acupuncture may improve recovery in patients with a frozen shoulder, either when used alone or in combination with physiotherapy, but more high-quality studies are needed to confirm this. A Cochrane systematic review found little evidence to support or refute the use of acupuncture for shoulder pain but concluded that there may be a short-term benefit with respect to pain and function.

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Acupuncture can reduce pain, inflammation, muscle and joint stiffness, and so may help in the treatment of frozen shoulder, by:

  • stimulating nerves located in muscles and other tissues, which leads to the release of endorphins and other neurohumoral factors, and changes the processing of pain in the brain and spinal cord.

  • reducing inflammation, by promoting the release of vascular and immunomodulatory factors.

  • enhancing local microcirculation, by increasing the diameter and blood flow velocity of peripheral arterioles.