Shoulder pain

Harnessing Acupuncture for Shoulder Pain Relief: Effective Treatments and Holistic Healing Approaches

In this article I will explain how acupuncture treats shoulder pain, what the most effective treatment approaches are, and share the latest clinical research. 

Acupuncture treats shoulder pain by stimulating the body to release natural painkillers, reduce inflammation, and improve circulation. In this way, it targets the root causes of the condition allowing the body to heal itself. 

Throughout my years of clinical experience, I have helped patients reduce shoulder pain and improve function with acupuncture. Acupuncture stops pain and reduces inflammation naturally providing an opportunity for the body to heal itself.  The correct combination of acupuncture, electroacupuncture, tui na, and cupping will provide profound improvement and relief for patients with shoulder pain. 

area of shoulder pain

Benefits of acupuncture for shoulder pain include: 

  • Pain Relief
  • Increased Range of Motion
  • Reduced Inflammation
  • Reduce medication
  • Reduction of Stress and Anxiety Reduction
  • Improved Sleep Quality
  • Long term improvements

Common Causes of Shoulder Pain

There are many causes of shoulder pain which acupuncture can treat. 

Rotator Cuff Injuries

The rotator cuff is a group of four muscles and their tendons that stabilize the shoulder. Injuries to the rotator cuff are a leading cause of shoulder pain and can occur from repetitive motions, lifting heavy objects, or sudden twisting movements.

Frozen Shoulder

Also known as adhesive capsulitis, frozen shoulder involves the gradual stiffening of the  shoulder joint. The condition can be incredibly painful, severely limiting the range of motion.


This is a degenerative condition that affects the cartilage in your joints. As the cartilage wears down, bones begin to rub against each other, causing pain and inflammation.


Tendinitis occurs when the tendons become inflamed or irritated. This condition results from repetitive movements or sudden injury.


The bursa is a small fluid-filled sac that reduces friction between bones and muscles. Inflammation of the bursa, known as bursitis, can result in significant pain and discomfort.

Muscular Tension

Muscular tension is another common cause of shoulder pain, often resulting from poor posture, repetitive strain, or emotional stress. When muscles remain contracted for extended periods, it can lead to stiffness, reduced range of motion, and localized pain. 

Trigger points are often involved with shoulder pain. These are hyper-reactive sites within muscles that can cause pain both at the site and elsewhere in the body, a phenomenon known as referred pain. Trigger points can form in any of the muscles around the shoulder and upper back, including the trapezius, deltoid, or rotator cuff muscles. These trigger points can be particularly sensitive and may cause a sharp, stabbing, or aching sensation when touched or when the muscle is in use.

Acupuncture can be used along side physical therapy for all of these conditions. 

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Acupuncture: Stimulating the Body Self Healing

acupuncture meridians on back

When it comes to addressing shoulder pain, acupuncture targets both the symptoms and the underlying cause. Rather than just masking the pain, acupuncture helps to reset the body and promote it’s natural healing abilities to bring about long term improvements. 

Within acupuncture theory, the human body is interconnected through a network of channels where Qi, the body’s energy, and blood circulate. When you experience an injury, such as shoulder pain, the flow of Qi and blood can slow down and develop into stagnation. 

Acupuncture breaks these blockages, enhancing blood and Qi circulation specifically in the affected shoulder muscles. Not only does this targeted treatment help alleviate shoulder pain, but the overall improvement in Qi circulation also contributes to enhanced health and general physical well-being.

Modern research shows that acupuncture works by stimulating the body’s nervous system to release natural pain-relieving chemicals, improves blood circulation, reduces muscle tension, and stimulates the release of anti-inflammatory substances. 

Acupuncture doesn’t just focus on the symptom but also addresses the whole person to improve wellbeing. This can lead to better digestion, improved mood, and a stronger immune system, among other benefits.

Cupping, Gua Sha, and Tui Na for Enhanced Pain Relief

Acupuncture isn’t an isolated practice. I will combine it with other manual therapies such as  cupping, gua sha, or tui na to enhance the therapeutic effects. 


Cupping involves placing specialized cups made of glass or plastic on the skin to create a vacuum. This action lifts the skin and superficial muscle layers into the cup, which can help improve blood flow, reduce muscle tension, and promote cellular repair. This helps to increase blood circulation to the shoulder, promoting healing, relieve muscle tension and stiffness, and help help draw out toxins and improve lymphatic drainage. 

Gua Sha

Gua Sha is a scraping technique where a tool made of jade or porcelain is used to apply pressured strokes over lubricated skin. I like to use a porcelain soup spoon. The rubbing stimulates will create a strange looking bruise with tiny dots in a line.  This lasts about a week. This is the heat and stagnation being releases.  We also know that gua sha helps improve blood flow,reduces inflammation, and breaks scar tissues and tension in the fascia all as a way of stimulating the body’s natural healing response.

Tui Na

Tui Na is a form of therapeutic massage in Chinese medicine aimed at increasing blood circulation and reduces muscle tension. I trained in China under a master tui na doctor, Dr. Xiao, whose clinic was always fully of patients.  From him I learned special techniques for pain relief and rapidly improving range of motion. I will often integrate tui na treatment after the acupuncture session.

Treatment Course

During your first acupuncture session, a comprehensive initial consultation and physical exam is performed. We will discuss your medical history, symptoms, and any other treatments you’ve tried. Based on this information, I will create a customized treatment plan is created to target your specific form of shoulder pain.

My treatment will include acupuncture or electroacupuncture with manual therapies such as cupping, gua sha, or tui na (Chinese Medical Massage). The combination of therapies help to reduce pain and inflammation and increase function more effectively and rapidly. 

acupuncture on upper back

During the treatment you’ll lie down on a massage table, either face-down or on your side, depending on which is most comfortable for you. For many patients I may use electroacupuncture which involves a small amount of electricity on the wires. The needles are generally left in place for about 20 to 30 minutes. During this time, you may feel a warmth or tingling sensation around the area which is a sign that the body is stimulated correctly to heal. 

After the acupuncture is completed we may also include cupping, gua sha, or tui na. 

For acute conditions you may see significant improvement after just a few treatments, around 2-4 visits. While chronic conditions might require about 8-12 visits.

Get Acupuncture, Feel Better

Shoulder pain can be a debilitating condition that impacts every facet of your life, from the quality of your sleep to your ability to perform simple daily tasks. Acupuncture helps stimulates the body’s natural healing processes to long term reduction in pain and increase in function. Get acupuncture and get back to doing what you love. 

To schedule your appointment please call us at 212-319-5757 or schedule your appointment online.

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Feedback From our clients…

“Shoulder pain had become a constant problem in my life, affecting not just my workouts and golf, but also my daily work. I’d tried various treatments, but it wasn’t until I sought out Dr. Alban’s acupuncture expertise that I found genuine relief. From our first session, Dr. Alban made me feel comfortable.  He exhibited a deep understanding of my pain and its implications on my life. Remarkably, after just a few visits of acupuncture and cupping, the pain started diminishing. I owe my restored mobility and zest for life to Dr. Alban. His services come highly recommended for anyone seeking effective pain relief.”

~ F.T.- Jersey City, NJ