Acupuncture Continuing Education

Acupuncture Shoulder & Neck Pain Relief

shoulder periarthritis acupuncture

Acupuncture is effective for shoulder pain relief. Two independent investigations find acupuncture effective for the alleviation of scapulohumeral periarthritis, which involves inflammation of the shoulder region (including the tendons, muscles, and bursa). Both investigations determined that acupuncture successfully improves shoulder function and reduces or eliminates pain.

Panjin Central Hospital (Liaoning) researchers conclude that “acupuncture can significantly relieve shoulder and neck pain, thus improving clinical effectiveness.” [1] They compared two groups, one received medications and the other received tuina and acupuncture. The study lasted from 2017 to 2018. Eighty patients were randomly divided into two groups. The drug observation group was comprised of 12 males and 28 females, with an average age of 53.5 ±2.3 years. The acupuncture group consisted of 19 males and 21 females. The mean age of the acupuncture group was 55.2 ±1.5 years.

The drug observation group was treated with regular medications. Patients took aspirin, sulindac (an NSAID), or nimesulide (an NSAID), and other drugs to clear inflammation and relieve pain. Additionally, the affected areas received regular injections based on the severity of symptoms. Injections included tetracaine (6-3 ml), prednisolone (2-3 ml), and vitamin B1 (1 ml). Injections were applied regularly based on individual pain levels.

Patients in the acupuncture group received tuina massage relaxation techniques to relieve tension in the shoulders prior to acupuncture treatment. Needles were then inserted to a depth of 1–1.5 cun. During the 30-minute treatment periods, acupuncturists adjusted the needles to add more stimulation every ten minutes. The following acupoints were used:

  • SI9 (Jianzhen)
  • LU1 (Zhongfu)
  • LI11 (Quchi)
  • Lingxia (陵下, 2 cun below GB34–Yanglingquan)

Acupuncturists selected 2–3 acupoints from the aforementioned list for each patient, dependent upon clinical presentations. Routine disinfection was applied. The acupuncture needles were 30 gauge. The total number of treatments varied, dependent upon clinical presentations.

Outcome measures consisted of three categories: significantly effective (shoulder pain eliminated, shoulder joints flexibly move, patient life quality improved), effective (shoulder pain alleviated, shoulders function normally on most days), ineffective (symptoms persist or worsen). Following completion of all treatment, the acupuncture group had a higher effective rate ( 90%) compared with the drug observation group (72.5%).

In another clinical investigation (conducted in Wenshang, China), researchers determined that acupuncture is effective for the alleviation of cervical spondylopathy with shoulder periarthritis. Two groups were observed. One received tuina massage monotherapy and the other received a combination of tuina and acupuncture. A total of 40 patients were randomized into the two groups. Tuina monotherapy produced an 80% total effective rate and the combination of acupuncture plus tuina produced a 96.67% total effective rate. [2] The combined treatment group had superior outcomes across all metrics, including pain relief and shoulder function.

Treatments were administered on alternate days, for a total duration of 30 days in both groups.
For the tuina massage group, regular methods such as pulling manipulation, rolling manipulation, and kneading manipulation were applied. The 30-minute tuina therapy was mainly on the deltoid and trapezius muscle regions. Patients participated in the tuina sessions by moving their shoulders to both left and right directions, then forming a T-position with both arms, and finally moving both arms in a circular motion.

For the acupuncture group, 0.30 mm × 40.0 mm needles were inserted to obtain a deqi sensation; afterwards, the needles were retained for 30 minutes. The following points were chosen for the majority of patients:

  • SI9 (Jianzhen)
  • LI15 (Jianyu)
  • MUE48 (Jianqian)

For patients that also experienced neck pain, the following points were used:

  • Ashi (阿是)
  • GB21 (Jianjing)
  • GV20 (Baihui)
  • GB20 (Fengchi)
  • MBW35 (Jiaji)

The researchers commented on the results. They noted that acupuncture stimulates brain centers to encourage the release of enkephalins, thereby contributing to pain relief. In addition, they noted that acupuncture enhances circulation, expels pathogenic factors, strengthens immunity, and regulates internal organ functions. Overall, they concluded that acupuncture reduces symptoms, improves quality of life, and is a viable treatment option for patients with cervical spondylopathy and shoulder periarthritis.


[1] Mu Lin, Analysis of the clinical efficacy of treating scapulohumeral periarthritis with acupuncture, Chinese Medicine Guide, 2019-11-17.
[2] China Prac Med, May 2019, Vol. 14, No. 15.


Acupuncture Continuing Education Credits