acupuncture for shoulder pain

At our acupuncture clinic on the Gold Coast, we have assisted many many patients recover or find relief from debilitating and protracted episodes of shoulder pain.  Painless and unrestricted movement of the shoulder joints are essential for free use of the upper limbs and hands.  Those who have pain and dysfunction often find it difficult to fully participate at work, in sport or at home.  In this article I want to discuss muscle and tendon pain of the rotator cuff muscles.  There are some difficult complications that can occur when these problems become chronic, however they will be explored in future articles.  I believe it is valuable for patients to have some basic knowledge of anatomy when it comes to the shoulder because pain rarely originates from where it is felt.  On most occasions you will find treatment is performed nearby where you feel pain. 

Moxa needle for shoulder pain at our Gold Coast Acupuncture clinic

anatomical considerations

Below are some general facts about the shoulder joint:

  • The shoulder joint is a shallow ball-and-socket type joint that connects the humerus (upper arm bone) to the scapula (shoulder blade).

  • Another bone called the clavicle (collar bone) acts as a brace between the sternum and the scapula, which keeps the shoulder at a useful distance from the mid line.

  • The short powerful muscles that connect the scapula to the humerus are essential for supporting and moving the shoulder joint. These muscles are referred to as the rotator cuff muscles.

  • The muscles that connect the scapula to the spine ensure free movement of the scapula over the back of the ribcage.

It is often underappreciated that the shoulder joint is formed between the humerus and the scapula (shoulder blade).  Furthermore, many of the important muscles that move the shoulder are located on the scapula itself.  When muscle or tendon pain occurs, it is usually located where the tendons of the rotator cuff muscles attach to the humerus or is referred from these muscles/ tendons into the upper arm.  When we treat shoulder pain, the rotator cuff muscles and their tendons are frequently a target for therapy. 

symptoms and causes

Muscle pain and stiffness, strains or cumulative traumas are common pathologies affecting the rotator cuff muscles.  Trauma and physical fatigue are the dominant causes of these pathologies.  Simple muscle pain and stiffness presents with intermittent pain that is worse on movement.  It also feels tight and stiff.  This is easily addressed with sensible physical medicine and patients can expect a speedy recovery.  Strains of the rotator cuff muscles usually occur during physical activity, and they represent acute damage to the tissue itself.  Pain is initially severe and is aggravated by movement, particularly during resisted movement, which is often reported as a loss of strength.  Tissue damage causes inflammation, so you may expect tenderness on palpation, minor swelling and a feeling of heat.  Traditional East Asian Medicine is particularly effective in the management and resolution of acute tissue damage.  Patients can again expect to recover within weeks, especially if the tendons have avoided damage.    

Cumulative trauma is a much more challenging scenario than the pathologies mentioned previously.  In this condition there has been a slow progression of tissue abnormalities and damage occurring over time to the muscle, tendo-muscular junction and tendon.  The history of this condition is frequently associated with pain occurring for months/ years, traumas, physical fatigue, constant/ excessive use and degeneration from aging.  In many cases pain has become constant, there is reduced range of motion, there are sharp exacerbations of pain, pain is worse for sustained use and worse for resisted movement.  Tissue abnormalities are visible on inspection, palpation and imaging with ultrasound or MRI.  It is important in these conditions to not only focus on the local area but to have a broader appreciation of the patient’s circumstances.  Investigation and treatment of the circumstances contributing to a disease state is really the essence of Traditional East Asian Medicine.  The treatment of this condition may take up to a few months and the majority of cases can expect a good result. 

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