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Acupuncutre and an injured shoulder

Q:  I injured my shoulder windsurfing and having rested it and resorted to a a sports massage (which made the pain worse). I wondered if acupuncture might help?

A:  A great deal depends on the nature of the injury. The shoulder is a very tricky joint to deal with, as your sports massage therapist may have told you. The gleno-humeral cavity, the very loose ball and socket arrangement which gives the shoulder its extreme mobility compared, say, to the hip joint, means that its stability depends on several layers of muscle and a rotator cuff. If any of these is inflamed, torn or damaged, it can throw the whole alignment of the joint out, and this can work against recovery, especially since the shoulder is a difficult joint to immobilise and continue to function as normal.

We are not surprised that treatment made the pain worse. It is often the case that correcting a joint problem after it has become 'set' for a while can make the muscles ache a great deal. However, this should be a short-term and transient effect, and if it continues to happen, then it may well be that direct treatment is simply aggravating the problem. Acupuncture practitioners occasionally find the same thing happens if they treat an inflamed area to reduce heat and swelling; it can feel rather like poking a sleeping dragon, and make attempts to treat feel very uncomfortable. The advantage of using acupuncture, however, is that the system of Chinese medicine is based on theories of flow and balance of an energy, called 'qi', and one does not need to needle directly into the place where the pain is. Often we find that treating at a distance, 'distal treatment', by using points further down the limb or occasionally on the opposite limb or even equivalent lower limb, can have profound effects. This can all seem very mysterious to someone with no experience of Chinese medicine, but we find that once we show patients some of our charts and books, it makes perfect sense.

The best advice we can give you is to visit a BAcC member local to you and seek their advice. Shoulder problems tend to be unique and different, even in western medicine, and this will determine whether they recommend acupuncture treatment for you. You will almost certainly need to be following a course of excercise and movement at the same time to regain your proper strength and co-ordination, especially since you are very likely to be back on a board as soon as you are better. It might well be worth asking a local BAcC member if they, or a colleague, have this kind of experience - our members are happy to network to make sure that someone gets the best possible outcome. It may even be worth considering going to a physiotherapist who also uses acupuncture, as many now do, to get the best of both, although, obviously, we believe that as the 'experts' in acupuncture, you would be better off initially having your acupuncture treatment from someone who uses this as their full time job rather than simply as another tool in the toolbox.


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