Acupuncture for Shoulder Pain

by Mark Whalen


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

These patients report having trouble reaching back to put on a seatbelt, putting a jacket on, overhead motions, limitations on exercise and a general reduction in 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 2.

Without these structures, the arm would dislocate out of the socket.  Aside from looking strange, and making your arm very ineffective, I hear it is quite painful to dislocate a shoulder.   At least, that’s what Mel Gibson told me.

Some of the conditions I treat in my acupuncture clinic include:

  • frozen shoulder
  • bicep tendonitis
  • osteoarthritis,
  • rheumatoid arthritis
  • bursitis
  • cervical radiculopathy
  • thoracic outlet syndrome
  • 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 doesn’t 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 joint3.

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 line 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 GERD.

Cortisone injections reduce pain by reducing inflammation.  They are not considered 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 tendons4.

Acupuncture Treatment for Shoulder Pain

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

Acupuncture involves the insertion of thin, pre-sterilized needles in various areas of the body to elicit a response.  Acupuncture stimulates the release of the opiods (pain killing chemicals) as well as adenosine- a natural pain killer with anti-inflammatory properties.5

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

How well does Acpupunture work?  In a 2010 study comparing acupuncture to conventional orthopedic treatments, the acupuncture group fared far better.  At the three month follow up, the acupuncture group had a recovery rate of 65% vs. 37% for the orthopedic group.6

Acupuncture is a safe, natural, effective way to treat shoulder problems.  Don't 'shoulder'* the burden of pain anymore.

Call today for a free consultation.


*PS-apologies for the terrible pun.





2. webmd



5. Pain. 2010 Oct;151(1):146-54. Epub 2010 Jul 23. German Randomized Acupuncture Trial for chronic shoulder pain (GRASP) - a pragmatic, controlled, patient-blinded, multi-centre trial in an outpatient care environment. Molsberger AF, Schneider T, Gotthardt H, Drabik A.

6. Nanna Goldman, Michael Chen, Takumi Fujita, Qiwu Xu, Weiguo Peng, Wei Liu, Tina K Jensen, Yong Pei, Fushun Wang, Xiaoning Han, Jiang-Fan Chen, Jurgen Schnermann, Takahiro Takano, Lane Bekar, Kim Tieu, Maiken Nedergaard. Adenosine A1 receptors mediate local anti-nociceptive effects of acupuncture. Nature Neuroscience, 2010; DOI: 10.1038/nn.2562

Mark Whalen is a Licensed Acupuncturist and Board Certified Herbalist and the founder of Five Points Acupuncture & Wellness in Reading, MA.

Mark Whalen – who has written posts on .


{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

robbie robinson March 13, 2017 at 6:53 am

My wife and I live in Portugal and have done so for twenty years . Their chemists are qualifies doctors in their chosen profession and are extremely helpful .
About six months ago I felt a nagging pain in my right shoulder which I was advised to us a herbal cream to massage at least twice daily to reduce and heal the damage to the shoulder . Unfortunately the pain continued and to make things worse my left shoulder started with the same pain both of which continues to this day . sleepless nights are common place . I’m getting frustrated and depressed that short of continually taking pain killers what ever I do nothing is helping . Advise please . Thank you. Robbie R


Mark Whalen March 14, 2017 at 9:58 am

Hi Robbie- sorry to hear about your pain. The best advice I can offer is to find an acupuncturist near you who can give you treatment. Acupuncture
works great for shoulder pain. Best wishes, Mark


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