Yi Song, L.Ac
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Frozen Shoulder: Surgery, Physical Therapy, or Acupuncture?

When it comes to frozen shoulder, the first treatment conventional Western Medicine offers is physical therapy. If the shoulder joint has become frozen due to the scar tissue formation after the injury, the only way that you will be able to restore the range-of-motion in the joint is to break up the scar tissue. Movement is the key in improving the range of the motion in the joint. Since the scar tissue has formed in the area due to improper healing, it is often times extremely painful to perform certain movements. The person with the frozen shoulder then avoids those motions, which promotes further the formation of scar tissue in the area.

Acupuncture combined with electric stimulation, acupressure, and Chinese therapeutic massage improves the circulation deep in the joint; therefore, it alleviates the pain associated with the movements, helps break down the scar tissue, and promotes healing. At the end of each session, the patient is able to achieve bigger range of motion than that at the beginning of the session. An intensive kinetic activity session with acupressure and massage follows to further break down the scar tissue that has been softened during the acupuncture with electric stimulation. Since the patient feels less pain utilizing the joint due to the pain reducing effect of acupuncture, the practitioner will try to make passive movements to help the patient reach greater range of motion which he/she could not on him/herself. At the same time, special acupressure points and tender area with lumps and knots from scar tissue are massages in order to soften and dissipate them. Usually the patient is able to improve further in the range of motion during the therapeutic exercise and neuromuscular reeducation session.In comparison with conventional physical therapy, most frequently prescribed for frozen shoulder, the clinical effects of a combined treatment session are greater due to the following reasons:

The duration of the session is longer in acupuncture and therefore, stimulates a larger area in the joints.
It can stimulate the circulation and repair deeper in the joint as the stimulation is transmitted through the needles and acupressure. The electric stimulation through acupuncture needles delivers deeper vibration than the regular TENS or ultrasound in physical therapy.
The kinetic activity session is tailored to each individual person and addresses the exact issue the patient is having difficulty with. A lot of physical therapy exercises are standardized and do not cater to every situation.
With the help of pain-reducing effect of acupuncture, the patient has less pain while practicing the therapeutic exercises so that the patient does not avoid these exercises but tries to work harder.
The heat used during the acupuncture, massage, and kinetic activity session improves the circulation, reduces the inflammation, and promotes the healing. Conventional physical therapy uses ice instead of heat even when the shoulder injury or the frozen shoulder has been developed for a long period of time (usually over one month to a year)! Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine therapies are against the use of ice once the injury or trauma area has been over the 48 hour acute period. Ice can temporarily numb the area but it is congealing in nature and doesn’t promote the long term healing. Healing needs good circulation to break down the old tissue and build the new muscle fiber. Ice slows down the circulation. How do you heal faster if you frequently apply ice to the injured area? A lot of my patients switch from ice to heat after I explained the mechanism of ice vs. heat. All of them agreed from their personal experience that they actually feel much better with heat than ice!