To answer this question, I’m going to tell you the story of “Ted”. (Correct, not his real name. And spoiler alert, yes, acupuncture works very well for shoulder pain.) Ted came to me because he had injured his shoulder in a skiing accident three months prior. An MRI revealed he had rotator cuff tendinitis, and a labral tear. The shoulder labrum is pictured to the right.
What is a Shoulder Labrum?
- A labrum is made of rubbery fibrocartilage
- Lines the the lip of the shoulder joint
- It acts as a cushion to the joint
- Holds the ball and socket joint securely together
Labral tears, specifically a SLAP tear in Ted’s case, are pretty common shoulder injury. They can happen when a person falls onto an outstretched arm, which probably happened to Ted while he was skiing. They often occur to baseball and racquet sport players, due to a lot of wear and tear on the shoulder joint. When there is a tear, it becomes unstable, and can be quite painful.
Symptoms of a Labral Tear
- More pain with overarm activity
- Dull achy pain
- Painful to sleep on affected arm
- Popping and grinding in joint
“Will My Shoulder Pain Heal Quickly?”
Ted had a plan to go rafting through the Grand Canyon for 3 weeks in 6 month. He was justifiably afraid that his shoulder pain would hamper his ability to swim to safety if he was thrown from the raft. His idea was to first try acupuncture for a couple months. If it didn’t work he would still have time to consider surgery. To start, with any injury I recommend 8-10 treatments over 4-5 weeks. At this point, many injuries resolve. If it isn’t completely better, we will know at that time if it will be helpful to continue with another course of treatment.
The Treatment Plan
At the start, it was too painful for him to do any movement that involved reaching above or behind him. Our first treatment, we put needles in the opposite shin and ankle, in areas that correlate with the front of his shoulder. Immediately, his range of motion increased, and pain decreased. This is a simple way to move blood and qi, and decrease the stagnation that causes pain and lack of mobility. Next we put needles directly into the tender spots at the top and in the front of his shoulder joint, and used electroacupunture on the needles
I treated Ted a total of 8 times over 2 months, with sometimes adding cupping or kinesiology taping to the protocol. After his first treatment, his shoulder pain got better by about 50 percent. After five treatments he would have days no pain with any movement, alternating with days where he felt like there was no improvement at all. By the 8th treatment he could once again sleep on the shoulder, had no pain with any movement. At this point he started working with a trainer to strengthen his shoulder and started doing yoga again.
His Injury Resolution
Ted just returned for some treatment last week. His Grand Canyon trip was a great success, with no problems swimming, and he even learned to paddle through very rough white water. In addition, he did a lot of very steep hiking on very unstable ground, so now he’s coming in for treatment of his knee. Well, that’s the way it goes when you use your body for fun-filled action. It’s not a problem, as long as you properly take care of your self and your body.