Reviewed by Dr Jessica Gunawan and Physician Vong U Chan
6 Natural Ways TCM Can Help Treat a Frozen Shoulder
Published | 5 min read
A frozen shoulder can make even the simplest everyday task challenging. This article discusses its causes, symptoms, and ways TCM can help.
Living with a frozen shoulder can be frustrating and painful. Its symptoms manifest as stiffness, pain, and a gradual loss of mobility in the area, impairing your ability to perform your daily activities. But patience, consistent care, and a combination of exercise and other remedies can help speed up and support your recovery.
What is a Frozen Shoulder and Why Does It Happen?
Also known as adhesive capsulitis, it affects more women than men and generally occurs in their 40s to 60s.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), a frozen shoulder is due to an imbalance in the body – the blockage of qi (life force) and blood in the meridian pathways due to Cold. “We also call frozen shoulder, Fifties Shoulder (wu shi jian, 五十肩) because it’s more prevalent among people in their 50s,” says TCM Physician Vong U Chan. When the body’s yang qi slowly declines, elderly people, become more susceptible to the
According to Physician Vong, the condition develops slowly over three stages. “There is the freezing stage, frozen stage, and thawing stage. Each stage can last for months.
Western Medicine and TCM Treatments: A Synergistic Approach
Western medicine has three methods for treating an idiopathic frozen shoulder: conservative care, minimally invasive action, and operative treatment. Many cases can often be resolved with conservative treatments.
Similarly, TCM combines herbal remedies with other modalities to dispel Wind,
“Treatments involve using herbs, acupuncture, cupping, tuina, and moxibustion to intervene early and relieve patients of the pain. It enables them to regain mobility
TCM Treatments for a Frozen Shoulder
1. Herbal remedies
When frozen shoulder pain is too great to be able to undergo
In TCM, acupuncture helps treat a frozen shoulder caused by Cold, Wind, Dampness, and the Stagnation of qi and blood. It unblocks energy channels and promotes blood circulation, balancing yin and yang. Stimulating certain acupoints not only brings back range of motion to the shoulder when done regularly, but it also helps relieve pain symptoms.
“You can also use a heating lamp in conjunction with acupuncture to disperse Cold and relax muscles. It helps to relieve tension and pain,” suggests Physician Vong.
This is an external treatment that works by burning specific
- Warm-nourishing is for warming yang, tonifying qi, nurturing blood, and relieving depletion.
- Warm-dredging is for activating blood, dissolving Stasis, promoting qi, and relieving pain.
- Warm-melting helps reduce phlegm, eliminate Stagnation, remove Wind, and dispel Dampness. When combined with acupuncture, moxibustion works well to improve symptoms of a frozen shoulder.
4. Cupping therapy
This form of therapy relies on acupoints and meridians similar to acupuncture. This treatment is often used to stimulate the sensory nerves of the skin, delivering pain relief to a specific area without directly treating it. Treatment is on the relevant nerves controlling the area where the pain is felt. This makes cupping great for treating pain and stiffness as well as unblocking qi and blood flow (
Tuina is a special form of Chinese massage that also involves some energy work. Since it uses a manual stimulation of acupoints, it’s a viable option for treating a frozen shoulder.
Not only is it used to help people with orthopaedic problems by releasing the
6. Traditional exercises
Physician Vong stresses the importance of exercising and
TCM can be very effective in treating a frozen shoulder in the early stages, but it will take time. “It is also important to keep the area warm and take note of good posture on a daily basis to prevent a frozen shoulder from developing,” advises Physician Vong. Through early intervention, proper treatment, and most importantly,
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- Trials. 2020. Stuck-moving needle acupuncture myofascial trigger point to treat idiopathic frozen shoulder: study protocol for a randomized controlled trial. [Accessed on 22 July 2022]
- The Journal of Chinese Medicine. 2019. Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine for Frozen Shoulder: A Case Report. [Accessed on 26 July 2022]
- Evidence-Based Complement and Alternative Medicine. 2018. Acupuncture at Tiaokou (ST38) for Shoulder Adhesive Capsulitis: What Strengths Does It Have? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. [Accessed on 22 July 2022]
- Evidence-Based Complement and Alternative Medicine. 2013. The Mechanism of Moxibustion: Ancient Theory and Modern Research. [Accessed on 22 July 2022]
- Randomized Controlled Trial. 2019. Clinical trial of treatment of frozen shoulder by intensive moxibustion plus acupuncture. [Accessed on 22 July 2022])
- 7. Traditional Chinese Medicine Cupping Therapy (Third Edition) as seen in Science Direct. 2014. Benefits of Cupping Therapy. [Accessed on 22 July 2022]
- 8. Tui Na. 2010. Foundations and development of Tui Na. [Accessed on 22 July 2022]
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