Your shoulder is an amazing thing. It can carry groceries, throw a fastball, high five a pal, comb your hair, and shrug when you don’t know the answer. It’s one of the most versatile joints in your body, able to move in almost any direction. That versatility comes with a price, however, which is that shoulders are prone to all kinds of injuries.
One of the most common kinds of shoulder injuries is damage to the muscles and tendons that make up your rotator cuff. Your shoulder is a ball and socket joint, like your hip. However, your shoulder has a very shallow socket, in order to allow for that flexibility of movement. This means that your shoulder depends on the surrounding muscles and tendons to hold it together. Many of those muscles and tendons make up the rotator cuff, or a kind of sleeve that holds your arm in place in the socket.
Many people talk about the rotator cuff as if it were a single entity, but in reality it is a group of four muscles and tendons that converge near the top of your shoulder. For anatomy geeks, those four muscles are supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, and subscapularis–easily remembered by the acronym SITS. Interestingly, the rotator cuff muscles live behind your shoulder, around your scapula (your chicken wing). However, the tendons to those muscles are anchored at the front of your shoulder, enabling a wide range of motion.
Shoulder injuries are common, and can be caused by repetitive movements of the arm, injuries, trauma, muscles tears, swelling of the tendons, and aging. Symptoms of rotator cuff injuries include pain, especially in the front of the shoulder and down your arm; weakness; problems moving your shoulder; the sensation of a “catch” when lifting your arm; noise with movement; and the inability to sleep on the affected shoulder.
If you are experiencing shoulder pain, the first order of business is to give it a rest. If your pain is from overuse, this means you need to quit doing the activities that have been stressing your shoulder out. I am also a big fan of physical therapy for shoulder injuries, as a good therapist will give you exercises and stretches to increase your range of motion and over time, strengthen the involved muscles.
Can acupuncture help rotator cuff injuries? In many instances, it can. I have found that the majority of shoulder problems originate at the supraspinatus muscle, which sits at the top of your scapula and runs under the AC joint (where your collar bone ends at your shoulder) to anchor at the front of your shoulder. Pain can be from a weak or partially torn muscle, tendinitis, or swelling as the muscle passes under the AC joint. A sign that the supraspinatus is involved is the sensation of a painful catch when you raise your arm upward from your side.
Acupuncture can relieve the pain in your shoulder, reduce inflammation, and speed up the healing process. An acupuncture treatment involves taking a history of the injury, mapping the pain, and determining the muscles and tendons that are involved. In many cases, the pain is coming from one of the rotator cuff muscles in your back. Patients are often surprised to find that a couple of well-placed needles in their back can actually provide a great deal of relief and healing in their shoulder. If you’re suffering from shoulder pain, set up a time for a free consultation to see if acupuncture can help you!