Is acupuncture effective for treating frozen shoulders?

by Dr. Dongfeng Zhou

Is acupuncture effective for treating frozen shoulders?

One of the questions on the minds of many people is, “Is acupuncture effective for treating frozen shoulders?” Well, before you get the answer to the question, let’s start from the basics. Also known as adhesive capsulitis, frozen shoulder is a condition that gets you stuck and unable to move your shoulder properly. As you are aware, the shoulder joint consists of the ball and socket joint known as the humeral head and the glenoid respectively. The ball and socket joint has the arm (humerus), shoulder blade (scapula), and collarbone (clavicle).

To firmly hold every component together, the tissue (also known as shoulder capsule) surrounds the shoulder joint, which is the most movable part of the body. The moment you have adhesive capsulitis, it affects the joint in a way that you cannot freely move it. In other words, you experience stiffness and limitation or loss of normal range of motion (ROM). While the cause remains unclear, frozen shoulder is common among women who are 40 years and older. Statistics show that 5% – 20% of Americans experience frozen shoulders at some point in their lives. It is important to note, therefore, that the condition is common among individuals who have a history of thyroid problems, Parkinson’s disease, heart disease, and diabetes. Having read thus far, just continue reading to find out the role of acupuncture in treating frozen shoulders.

Symptoms of Frozen Shoulders

The main symptoms of the disorder are pain and stiffness that make it difficult to move the shoulder about. Most times, the sensation worsens to achy pain or dull ache in the shoulder. Then again, you feel the painful sensation in the shoulder muscles that wrap around the top of the arm as well as the upper arm. The worst experience comes during the quiet times at night. People fully recover from these symptoms after 1 – 4 years.

In a nutshell, the sensation goes through a stage-by-stage process as explained below:

Freezing Stage

  • You notice pain around your shoulder whenever you move it
  • With each passing day, the pain gets worse, with the most excruciating pain at nights
  • If allowed, it is likely to go on for 6 to 9 months
  • It hinders your ability to move your shoulder about

Frozen Stage

  • Although the pain may be relieved unaided, sometimes, the stiffness gets worse
  • When the latter happens, it restricts you from getting involved in your daily activities
  • This stage is likely to get to a year if not properly attended to

Thawing Stage

  • The motion gradually returns to normal
  • This stage takes between 6 months and 2 years


Causes of Frozen Shoulders

To date, the cause of the disorder remains unclear. However, it is important to understand the at-risk groups. This will help you lead a better life and enlighten your loved ones and people around you. You see, statistics show that it is more common among women than men. For women between 40 and 60 years, they are more likely to experience it than those who fall outside the age bracket. Also, it has no known racial or genetic tendency.

Furthermore, the risk of developing the condition is higher if you are beginning to recover from certain conditions, such as stroke and mastectomy. Other medical conditions that often worsen the risks of developing the disorder include diabetes, thyroid disease, and Parkinson’s disease. In fact, stats have shown that 10% to 20% of people who have diabetes get adhesive capsulitis.

Is Acupuncture Effective for Treating Frozen Shoulders?

Researchers have carried out numerous studies in the past to determine the efficacy of acupuncture in treating adhesive capsulitis.

In one 2016 study conducted in Iran, experts invited 40 patients with an average age of 54 – 55 for a controlled clinical trial. Two groups were created, with both acupuncture and non-acupuncture groups split into 20 participants each. In the end, the researchers concluded that acupuncture is effective for treating the disorder. Still, they disclosed that most patients with the condition would improve with nonsurgical treatment, adding that the ancient Chinese therapy was also safe for treating the ailment.

In a similar vein, in September 2020, Eya Ben-Arie, a vascular surgeon based in Atlanta, carried out an extensive study on the use of acupuncture in treating adhesive capsulitis. Again, Ben-Arie’s team concluded that acupuncture is safe and potent for treating the medical condition. They also noted that the effective acupoints for the treatment are jian yu (L115) and jian liao (TB14). Their findings also show that the ancient Chinese remedy restores participants’ shoulder functions and ROM in the short midterm.

Frozen Shoulder: Why is Acupuncture Effective?

From the foregoing, the traditional remedy is effective for treating adhesive capsulitis. TCM practitioners encourage people who have adhesive capsulitis to treat it with the traditional remedy because it is potent and safe. Indeed, the research studies above have shown that these acupuncturists are right. It is also advisable to use traditional therapy for treating adhesive capsulitis because surgery and prescription drugs often have their side effects.

In general, acupuncture:

  • Increases the flow of flood to the muscle and tendons of the shoulder
  • Breaks up scar tissues by stimulating the immune system
  • Relieves pains by stimulating the body’s pain-relieving hormones such as endorphins and enkephalins.

During the session, the specialist releases the trigger points in the subscapularis by inserting some sterile needles into the shoulder area, upper arms and elbow, hand and other relevant parts of the body. Many specialists use electroacupuncture to achieve this because it releases powerful pain-relieving substances into the body. In the end, it repairs your damaged or torn tissues.

Put simply, the traditional remedy balances the electrical gradient in the fascia, nerves, and cells. Once the specialist concludes the therapy, it relieves the pain, promotes healing, and revs up the production of synovial fluid to encourage smooth movement of the shoulder. You should go for the session once or twice a week for four weeks as a starting point.  To learn more about how this works and get help, get in touch with Dr. Zhou Dongfeng now…


  1. Overview orthopaedics: frozen shoulder. UCSF Health. Accessed June 18, 2022.
  2. Asheghan M, Aghda AK, Hashemi E, et al. Investigation of the effectiveness of acupuncture in the treatment of frozen shoulder. Mater Sociomed. 2016 Jul; 28 (4): 253 – 257.
  3. Wheeler T. What is a frozen shoulder? Revised March 18, 2021. Accessed June 16, 20222.
  4. Frozen shoulder. Mayo Clinic. Accessed June 20, 2022.
  5. Ben-Arie E, Kao P, Lee Y, et al. The effectiveness of acupuncture in the treatment of frozen shoulder: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2020; 14.
  6. Frozen Shoulder. John Hopkins Medicine. Accessed June 12, 2022.

Is acupuncture effective for treating frozen shoulders?

By Dr. Dongfeng Zhou