Frozen shoulder, or adhesive capsulitis, is a condition that causes restriction of motion in the shoulder joint. The cause of a frozen shoulder is not well understood, but it often occurs for no known reason. Frozen shoulder causes the capsule surrounding the shoulder joint to contract and form scar tissue.
What causes frozen shoulder?
Most often, frozen shoulder occurs with no associated injury or discernible cause. There are patients who develop a frozen shoulder after a traumatic injury to the shoulder, but this is not the usual cause. Some risk factors for developing a frozen shoulder include:
- Age & Gender
Frozen shoulder most commonly affects patients between the ages of 40 to 60 years old, and it is twice as common in women than in men.
- Endocrine Disorders
Patients with diabetes are at particular risk for developing a frozen shoulder. Other endocrine abnormalities, such as thyroid problems, can also lead to this condition.
- Shoulder Trauma or Surgery
Patients who sustain a shoulder injury, or undergo surgery on the shoulder can develop a frozen shoulder joint. When injury or surgery is followed by prolonged joint immobilization, the risk of developing a frozen shoulder is highest.
- Other Systemic Conditions
Several systemic conditions such as heart disease and Parkinson’s disease have also been associated with an increased risk for developing a frozen shoulder.
What happens with a frozen shoulder?
No one really understands why some people develop a frozen shoulder. For some reason, the shoulder joint becomes stiff and scarred. The shoulder joint is a ball and socket joint. The ball is the top of the arm bone (the humeral head), and the socket is part of the shoulder blade (the glenoid). Surrounding this ball-and-socket joint is a capsule of tissue that envelops the joint.
Normally, the shoulder joint allows more motion than any other joint in the body. When a patient develops a frozen shoulder, the capsule that surrounds the shoulder joint becomes contracted. The patients form bands of scar tissue called adhesions. The contraction of the capsule and the formation of the adhesions cause the frozen shoulder to become stiff and cause movement to become painful.
Treating Musculo-skeletal Pain with Traditional Chinese Medicine
Pain conditions bring many people to a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) clinic: back pain, knee pain, tennis elbow, the list goes on. Unfortunately, most of us can expect to suffer from pain at some point in our lives. Twelve percent of global population currently suffer from pain or discomfort that prevents at least a few of their activities, and low back pain is estimated to affect 60 to 80% of the population at least once in their life. The good news is that TCM can offer effective treatments.
Assessing your pain
Your first session will begin with an assessment of your pain; how long you’ve had it, what caused it, and what makes it better or worse. Your practitioner may also perform a range of motion test to determine how your pain is affecting your joint mobility.
Treating your pain
According to TCM, “where there is blockage, there is pain”. Most pain conditions are the result of some kind of blockage in the flow of Qi or Blood, so the treatment strategy is to open up the channels.
Acupuncture is very effective at “getting things unstuck”. It has two effects: first of all, it creates short-term pain relief by stimulating the release of serotonin and natural opiates and by creating electrical impulses that inhibit pain. Secondly, it encourages long-term healing and repair of the affected tissues by reducing inflammation, increasing blood circulation, and relaxing chronically tense muscles.
Herbs can also be used to open the channels, especially if the blockage is caused by a deficiency condition. They are also useful in nourishing tendons and ligaments. Keep in mind that not all pain is treated the same way. TCM always looks at the whole person, including their diet and lifestyle. So it’s not just a sore back that’s being treated, it’s your sore back. This means that the same kind of pain condition may be treated quite differently in different people.
The length of your course of treatments will depend largely on how long you’ve had your pain condition and how serious the condition is. As a very rough guide, you can expect one weekly treatment for every month you’ve had your condition.
You can expect that your pain level will decrease, even after a single treatment. It will likely return before your second treatment, but not always to the original level. After the second treatment, you can expect a greater reduction in pain and a longer lasting effect, and so on for each subsequent treatment.
A 1994 British study documented this analgesic effect in a group of patients with tennis elbow. After one treatment, 80% of acupuncture patients reported at least a 50% decrease in pain, compared to only 25% of patients in the control group3. Similarly, a recent meta-analysis of studies on acupuncture and low back pain found that patients were 2.3 times more likely to report improvement than control groups4.
At the same time, needling will heal the affected tissues. Over a course of treatments, acupuncture will resolve the underlying condition in addition to treating the pain. Many pain conditions are the result of sport injuries.
Many pain conditions are the result of sport injuries. You can reduce the likelihood of becoming injured by stretching regularly … every day or every other day. When you stretch, think “gentle” and think “sustained”. Stretch only to the point where you feel it, then hold for a slow count of 12. Don’t forget to relax and breathe as you do this! Stretching can become a rewarding daily ritual. Don’t be surprised to find it addictive.
Even if you are suffering from pain, gentle exercise is good for most conditions. Yoga, tai chi, walking, swimming or cycling can all be helpful … consult with your practitioner to find out what will work best for you.