Acupuncture for Rotator Cuff Injury
Rotator cuff tendinitis is an injury that plagues athletes and non-athletes alike. It most often occurs from repetitive actions like throwing a ball, lifting, or even sitting at a computer. But the good news is that acupuncture can help. Acupuncture has proven to be a safe and effective method for treating rotator cuff injuries.
What is the rotator cuff?
The rotator cuff consists of four muscles that connect the shoulder to the humerus of the arm: the suprspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, and subscapularis muscle. These muscles stabilize the arm while it moves.
How does an injury develop?
Rotator cuff tendinitis, inflammation in to the tendon or the rotator cuff, is a common injury. Sometimes rotator cuff injuries also involve the muscles. Injuries often occur from repetitive movements like throwing a ball. It is also possible to injury the rotator cuff through injuries like falling or lifting something too heavy.
From the injury, one may develop pain, weakness, difficultly moving the arm, and irritation. If left untreated, it may become worse. Due to lack of motion of the arm, the arm may loose muscles mass and develop long term weakness. If muscle mass is loss, physical therapy is helpful to regain strength. It is important to visit your doctor to rule out other causes of the pain.
Acupuncture and rotator cuff tendinitis
Acupuncture is very effective for treating rotator cuff tendinitis. After an examination, your acupuncturist will create an acupuncture treatment plan.
The acupuncture points used are often on the shoulder and upper back. Sometimes the treatment focuses more on the front of the shoulder. Other times, it may focus on the upper back and back of the shoulder.
Electroacupuncture is particularly effective for rotator cuff injuries. The treatment is generally 6-10 weeks with patients coming in once or twice a week depending on the severity of the injury.
Acupuncture works to help rotator cuff injuries by increasing the circulation to the area and decreasing inflammation in the tendons. Acupuncture also works to reduce pain and inflammation through regulating neural pain pathways, stimulating the release of natural pain relieves in the body, such as opioids, as well as regulating pain relieving opioid receptors. Many studies have also shown acupuncture to have a anti-inflammatory effect, reducing the circulating inflammatory hormones in the blood (1).
The acupuncture treatment often includes other manual therapies such as cupping and acupressure. I use a type of tui na which is very effective for shoulder pain and rotator cuff injuries.
Research on Acupuncture for Rotator Cuff Tendinitis
There is a wonderful study done on acupuncture for rotator cuff tendinitis published in 1999 in the journal Pain.
52 people were enrolled and received acupuncture 2 times per week for 4 weeks. In this study, they used an interesting placebo needle. When the acupuncturist goes to insert the needle, the tip of it retracts, so there is no needle insertion. The acupuncture group’s pain was reduced much more than the placebo acupuncture group.
I think even better results can be obtained with the inclusion of acupressure, which I regularly do in my treatment for shoulder pain. In addition to acupuncture and acupressure, it is important to include stretches and exercises to prevent he pain from returning.