Acupuncture for Shoulder Pain

The shoulder is a very flexible structure that allows our arms a wide range of movement; to some extent this flexibility is gained at the expense of strength, and the shoulder is therefore prone to a variety of traumatic and degenerative problems. This tendency is perhaps often exacerbated by poor posture when our shoulders become rolled in and our chest collapses, and by a habitual hunching of our shoulders when we are stressed or anxious. All this means that shoulder problems are very common, ranging from mild occasional discomfort to severe pain and limitation of movement.


Conventional treatment of shoulder problems may involve physiotherapy, steroid injections, analgesic medications or surgery.

Shoulder Pain and TCM

Pain and restriction in movement in TCM arises when our Qi is not free flowing; for some reason it is stuck or stagnant. In the case of shoulder pain, the obstruction is in one or more of the meridians which flow around and through the shoulder, so treatment will involve freeing up the flow of Qi through the shoulder area, which will usually involve acupuncture treatment on the shoulder and quite possibly further down the meridians on the forearm or hand. Massage and cupping therapy may also help.

It is also important to understand why the Qi is getting stuck in the shoulder though, and from the perspective of TCM there are several possible causes of this, including the following:

i) Sometimes the Qi is blocked at the elbow due to what in TCM is called a pathogenic factor obstructing the flow; this is a form of external Qi which blocks the body’s own Qi. For example, if you are someone who feels the cold easily, and have been exposed to a cold environment, then a Cold pathogen may have entered the channels at the shoulder and, as it were, ‘frozen’ the Qi there. In this case as well as moving the Qi with acupuncture, we will want to warm the area, perhaps using moxibustion and warming topical applications. Other common pathogenic factors are Damp and Heat; in the former case the shoulder may feel heavy and perhaps be a little swollen; in the latter it may be warm and slightly red.

ii) Shoulder pain can often arise as part of an underlying disharmony involving inefficiency or poor functioning of internal organ systems. The careful questioning of a TCM practitioner at the initial consultation paints a clear picture of any such disharmony, and in this case local treatment of the shoulder will be supplemented by treatment to rebalance the patient’s Qi overall, using acupuncture and perhaps herbal therapy.

Is Acupuncture Helpful in the treatment of Shoulder Pain?

A recent Spanish study1 of 201 patients with various forms of shoulder pain recorded complete resolution of symptoms in 59.7% of patients and ‘remarkable improvement’ in a further 33.8%. The authors concluded that acupuncture shows good results for shoulder problems, even when these are long standing.


1 Guerra J. et al (2003) Acupuncture for soft tissue shoulder disorders: a series of 201 cases. Acupuncture in Medicine 21(1-2):18-22.


The Sean Barkes Clinic does not claim to cure any conventional medical disease states. Traditional Chinese Medicine seeks to re-establish and maintain the harmonious function of the human body-mind using tried and tested principles that have been discovered and matured over millennia. A Western medical diagnosis provides very little by way of insight in informing a Chinese Medical diagnosis. Patients usually recognise their own condition in terms of the medical disease category that they have been given by their GP or other conventional medical practitioner. The research presented here is merely an indication of the potential to draw parallels between Traditional Chinese Medicine and Modern Western Medicine.

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