A lot of people come to me with what is called a frozen shoulder. It is a common complaint in people as they get into their late forties and early fifties, though sometimes it can present in younger people. A frozen shoulder is miserable. The pain can make it difficult to find a comfortable sleep position. The lack of mobility in the joint makes it difficult to exercise. Even everyday activities like showering or brushing your hair can become troublesome.
Causes of frozen shoulder
From a traditional acupuncture point of view a frozen shoulder is the result of a lack of circulation in the shoulder. There are various causes. It could be environmental – cold and damp getting into the joint. If the neck and shoulder are exposed to a cold wind or left uncovered by the duvet at night it can cause a problem. It could be scarring from an old injury or overuse that impairs the circulation. It might be chronic stress creating tension in the area. If there is poor circulation the blood cannot carry nutrients needed for healing to the area. Even more importantly, poor circulation means toxins are not flushed from the tissues since all living tissues create waste products. The result is inflammation and pain.
Symptoms of frozen shoulder
Frozen shoulder typically presents with pain in the shoulder, especially during activity. The pain can be at the back, on top or in front of the joint. Mobility in the joint is restricted in any or all directions. Every case is slightly different. For some, the pain is restricted to the shoulder joint, for others the whole or part of the arm can be painful or numb. Traditional acupuncture diagnosis works out which channels are affected and therefore how to restore circulation to the shoulder.
Treatment of frozen shoulder
I have treated many people with shoulder pain. My job is to get the blood circulation flowing again. As soon as this happens the pain can reduce very quickly and the mobility of the joint can improve. I use acupuncture and moxa to achieve this. With frozen shoulder, I tell my patients they should see a significant improvement in the first two sessions, though a complete course of treatment may take weekly or bi-weekly 45-minute treatments over a longer period, depending on how long the problem has been in place and how severe the imbalance. If we do not see an improvement in the first couple of treatments, this can be a useful diagnostic insight that it is not a simple frozen shoulder. There might be a structural problem for example. In such a case I would reconsider my diagnosis and perhaps suggest a different type of treatment.
How can acupuncture help with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis(M.E.) and with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (C.F.S.)?
These are extraordinarily complex conditions and difficult to treat. I think it would be fair to say that western medicine has often struggled to understand or to offer effective treatments for these problems. From an acupuncture standpoint I like to keep things very simple. Illness in Chinese medicine is understood as an imbalance in the flow of energy in the body. Energetically things get stuck. In such circumstances people do not flourish physically or mentally. We can see an analogy in the natural world. A healthy environment is full of balanced movement, expressed through nutrient cycles and the interrelationship of thousands of species. Life is always flowing. When human activity has degraded any particular habitat this flow is interrupted and a decline in its biodiversity and robustness becomes apparent. However, if it is left alone it will slowly begin to regenerate. It is as if nature knows how things should be and given the chance will work to that goal. The human body, mind and spirit are the same. In M.E or C.F.S the body is no longer working as it naturally would. For some reason the body cannot find its own way to homeostasis – to balance. Acupuncture is a tool to give our energetic systems a gentle nudge to get things moving. If we can get things moving very often the body then knows what it needs to do and a powerful healing response can result.
Acupuncture is no miracle cure but may be able to help with some of the symptoms of these difficult conditions by getting things moving. If, for example, acupuncture treatment could increase circulation, it might help pain symptoms to some degree and this in turn might reduce depression. After a while a symptom like dizziness or ‘brain fog’ might begin to change. Such a course of acupuncture would be planned in terms of months not weeks. The plan would remain conditional on its effectiveness, periodically building in appropriate goals to clearly monitor any progress. Very often it would be complimentary to other forms of treatment. Each patient is different and each treatment plan would be tailored to that individual. If we can begin to change some of the symptoms it may be possible to improve quality of life.
Many people find it useful to look at the British Acupuncture Council website. They have a factsheet on CFS and reference a lot of the recent research into how acupuncture can help.