Q I am a 48-year-old woman. For two months, I have been bothered by pain in my left shoulder. It hurts whenever I try to lift my left arm. At night, I am often roused by the numbing pain. My left thumb is also affected. I have consulted two general practitioners. One says I have a degenerative disorder of the spine and advised me to go for an X-ray. The other says I have a frozen shoulder. The pain is affecting my health and sleep.
A Both conditions mentioned by your doctors can indeed cause shoulder pain, which can be felt when you reach overhead, wash your hair, put on a bra or pull something out from the backseat of a car.
An X-ray, ultrasound or MRI can help to identify structural problems in your shoulder, spine and joints.
In traditional Chinese medicine, shoulder and thumb pain can be traced to deficiencies in the liver and kidneys.
The kidneys govern the bones, while the liver governs the ligaments and tendons of the joints.
When these organs malfunction, shoulder and thumb pain results, which could affect the normal functioning of your shoulder.
Your problem may also be caused by a lack of qi (vital energy) and blood, and poor blood circulation.
These elements can combine with wind, heat, cold and dampness to trigger shoulder pain.
The tendons, fascia and ligaments of the body rely on the nourishment of blood.
Insufficient qi and blood can lead to chronic and intermittent pain.
When the body is low in qi and blood, external pathogens of wind, cold, dampness and heat can "invade" the shoulder and thumb too.
Wind will give rise to soreness, as well as pain that appears to travel from the shoulder to other joints.
Cold will trigger severe pain in the shoulder and thumb.
The pain and stiffness may worsen at night.
Dampness can lead to a feeling of heaviness, numbness and soreness in the shoulder and thumb.
Lastly, heat will trigger a sudden pain which is accompanied by redness and swelling.
An injury that did not heal completely, or scarring in the area, can also cause blockages of qi and blood.
TIPS TO EASE THE PAIN
Keep yourself warm, especially in the night.
Doing a light massage or placing heat pads on painful areas may enhance your qi and blood circulation.
Regular stretching exercises involving the affected shoulder and thumb are helpful too.
Try not to sit or stand in the same position for long stretches of time, as this can lead to joint, tendon and muscle pain.
You may also consider Chinese herbal medicine. To boost your liver and kidneys, try medicinal cyathula root and morinda root.
Herbs that support qi and blood include Indian bread and codonopsis root. The incised notoptergium rhizome and divaricate saposhnikvia root dispel wind and dampness.
Cold can be eliminated with monkshood mother root and kusnezoff monkshood root, while pain caused by heat and dampness can be eased with atractylodes rhizome and largeleaf gentian root.
Finally, herbs that boost blood circulation are sappan wood and peach seed.
LIM LAY BENG