How Acupuncture Can Relieve Swimmer’s Shoulder

By Sally Perkins

Swimming is a popular activity that is enjoyed by millions of people worldwide, but it can have disadvantages one of which is shoulder impingement affecting 40-91% of competitive participants. Swimmer’s shoulder is a painful condition that has an impact on your daily activities. In addition to therapy and pain-relieving medications, acupuncture can also relieve the uncomfortable symptoms of swimmer’s shoulder. By targeting central pressure points, acupuncture is a safe and convenient method of dealing with shoulder impingement.

Swimming and Certain Risks

Swimming is a life skill that everyone should learn. It does not only save your life when you are in the water but is also an effective form of cardio exercise as it requires every muscle in your body to move. Swimming helps you keep fit and even lowers the risk of early death by 28% boosting life expectancy. Unfortunately, overdoing it can also have negative repercussions on your body such as the swimmer’s shoulder.

The condition which is common in swimmers and people who use their shoulders a lot is characterized by a sudden pain in the shoulder when the arm is lifted overhead or backward. Other signs of swimmer’s shoulder is mild to constant arm pain and shoulder or arm weakness. Its diagnosis involves a physical exam to exclude a pinched nerve condition. An x-ray may also be ordered to rule out arthritis or spur. For serious rotator cuff injuries, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may be ordered.

Acupuncture for Pain Relief

Acupuncture works by releasing chemical compounds in the body to relieve pain or by overriding pain signals. It also allows Qi or energy to flow through the body. A study by Rueda and Lopez indicates that the use of acupuncture to treat the symptoms of shoulder impingement is safe. It is a reliable technique to achieve significant results and can be considered as a therapy option.

Depending on the severity of swimmer’s shoulder, the most common treatments include physical therapy and exercise, the use of an ice pack, and medication. Another alternative and effective treatment is acupuncture. Supraspinatus tendon inflammation is a common symptom of swimmer’s shoulder which can be caused by overtraining or even by poor stroke techniques. The supraspinatus muscle, one of the 4 muscles in the rotator cuff, is a common source of shoulder tendonitis.

Precise acupuncture treatment is focused on the belly of the muscle and the tendon where local needling can occur. Treatment to the infraspinatus — an adjacent muscle — also helps. The belly of the muscle is in the suprascapular fossa, which is in area of the acupuncture point small intestine (SI) 12. It is also the site of the trigger point and the motor point 3. Active trigger points in the muscle belly contribute to the pain. On the other hand, the muscle-tendon junction is in the area of the large intestine (LI) 16. Since the supraspinatus tendon must pass under the acromion which is a narrow fossa, a swollen tendon gets impinged which causes the sudden sharp pain. Pain from impingement is difficult to locate but is between LI 16 and LI 15. Hence, acupuncture is performed at the sites SI12 and between LI16 and LI15.

Swimmer’s shoulder can be uncomfortable and may prevent you from doing daily activities including swimming and sports. In many cases, you might just need to rest and do some physical therapy. The good news is acupuncture, as an alternative therapy, can assist in relieving symptoms of impingement.

 

Featured image photo by Jesper Aggergaard on Unsplash