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Shiatsu Massage for Frozen Shoulder

by Sandra Laidley(more info)

listed in shiatsu, originally published in issue 101 - July 2004

Each year frozen shoulder syndrome affects between two and five per cent of the population. What is frozen shoulder? It can be described as a very painful and debilitating condition of the shoulder.

My experience of this syndrome began last year when I became unhappy at work. 'That's life!' some might say. But the strain of dealing with a difficult job became too much for me. In an effort to get some control over my own life, I quit my job. I had always wanted to work from home and see more of my family. It seemed the perfect time to pursue these dreams.

My husband was supportive and everything was great at first. I was so enthusiastic! Around two months afterwards, I found myself facing new difficulties and I began to have second thoughts about my decision. I spent days wondering why it was that I had left a perfectly good job. How would I and my family survive without my salary? Few of my friends seemed to understand my change in lifestyle. The stress of everything took its toll and my health began to deteriorate.

I had felt ready for a complete change, but I was far from ready to face the events which followed.

One day after a late night I woke up with a dull pain in my left shoulder. I thought I had simply overstrained myself during an exercise and that it would go away after a few days. Instead, it lasted for weeks, then into months.

My whole left arm became stiff and difficult to move. Everyday activities like driving became a joke, because with any turning or twisting movement, the pain would start up. Even worse was that sometimes the pain seemed to shoot into both shoulders. The pain grew and grew, making it difficult to rest. Whatever it was, it appeared to be spreading, affecting every aspect of my life.

I had taken a period of good health for granted. So I had allowed my registration with the doctor to lapse and now that I needed medical attention there was no-one to turn to.

I could not work out what was causing the pain. I tried everything I could think of to ease the discomfort: bath salts and oils, deep heat and deep freeze ointments. I tried the protein supplement glucosamine sulphate. It didn't work. Over the counter painkillers such as co-codamol and ibuprofen tablets did little or nothing. I tried the homeopathic remedy Rhus tox for shoulder strain and hoped for an improvement. None came and I began to believe that I had broken my upper arm or shoulder while exercising. I was persuaded to go to the local hospital to have my shoulder X-rayed.

Doctors at the hospital could not diagnose the problem. An X-ray of my shoulder showed that the bones and cartilages in my left shoulder and upper arm looked fine. When a further appointment was made for me to attend the hospital, I knew it was serious, because I was being tested for things such as diabetes and MS. Eventually, I was told that I had a trapped nerve and that it would take a long time to get better. After re-registration and further visits to my own doctor, I was diagnosed as having frozen shoulder. The conventional treatment for this condition is physiotherapy, combined with an injection of steroids into the shoulder or an operation on the shoulder.

When, after another month, I had still not been able to see a physiotherapist, my husband suggested a visit to the Pain Relief Centre for shiatsu massage. I was very sceptical of the whole idea at first, but eventually I telephoned and made the appointment.

I didn't know what to expect upon arrival for my first visit. From the outside, the Centre looked very much like any other terrace house. I rang the bell and was welcomed by the shiatsu therapist himself into a simply furnished room with polished, wooden floorboards. I noticed that there were laminated charts on the wall – charts of acupressure points on the human body. I sat in a chair which contained a special cushion for back pain and answered questions about my general state of health and whether I'd ever had shiatsu massage before. I was then asked more specific questions about the pain I was experiencing.

"Shiatsu massage is a therapy, the massage equivalent of acupuncture but non-invasive. It is based on the idea of the Chi, the energies which flow around the body. Massage is applied to certain points of the body, stimulating the body into healing itself. It is a holistic therapy, which means that shiatsu treats the entire person, not just their symptoms.

"I think that in your case the root of your problem is stress," he continued. "Stress can build up over a period of time causing the energies in the body to become 'blocked' and this leads to related illnesses and pain. In my work I see this a lot.

"I recommend that you stop drinking tea and coffee and other drinks with caffeine. Look for things to drink that are caffeine-free. And try to breathe deeply. Use the whole of your lungs, not just the top. This helps to get the energies moving."

I promised to do as he asked. It meant that I had to stop the four cups of coffee and six cups of tea I was drinking through the day, everyday; but that was a small price to pay in order to have the pain leave my shoulder.

"As you feel the massage," he said, "just close your eyes and go to sleep. Most of my clients do anyway." Soothing music was put on and I was asked to remove my shoes and stand with my back towards him. He began the 'do' part of the massage.

With this part of the massage, the pain seemed to increase and I became sharply aware that it was no simple condition. I was then asked to lie down on a mat on the floor. I struggled over to the mat. As I lay down on the mat on my front, I hoped that the shiatsu therapist would be able to do for me what was now looking impossible.

As he continued with the massage I felt a comforting release. He seemed to pinpoint the exact spot where the pain was greatest and to stimulate that area. When the massage was over, the excruciating pain in my shoulder had gone. I hadn't expected the massage to be so effective.

I left this shiatsu session feeling that the massage was well worth every penny of the fee. The overwhelming sense of well-being and peace that I felt after my first encounter with touch therapy was amazing. That night, for the first time in months, I slept well and felt rested the next day.

The benefits of the massage did not stop there. My husband and family noticed and commented on the positive difference in my emotions and behaviour.

I combined shiatsu sessions with the physiotherapy I was finally offered.

With these two treatments, I hope that there will be no need for me to have further conventional treatment for frozen shoulder. Six months on, after a series of shiatsu sessions, my arm feels so much better.

And personally? The time spent in shiatsu sessions away from my day-to-day life, gave me the perspective to see the further changes I needed to make. After much soul-searching, I decided to focus on the things I was doing well. Now, rather than spending time being anxious about life-changes, I try to see them more as exciting opportunities to pursue my long-term dream of becoming a freelance writer and artist. The pay is less than I earned before and I've no idea if it will all work out.

I feel that my time in shiatsu massage therapy has given me the confidence to change direction subtly. It also helped me to face up to those things which were making me feel pressurized and then do my best to deal with them.

More than anything else, the insight that has come as a by-product of shiatsu has made me believe I really can achieve anything if I try!

Further Information

Useful Contacts – For further information on Frozen Shoulder Syndrome – The British School of Shiatsu-Do.

Further info about Shiatsu – To contact a practitioner of shiatsu in your area.
Pain Relief Centre, Geary Road, London NW2 1HR, Registered, qualified (MRSS) practitioners of Shiatsu and Acupuncture. Tel: 020-450 8688.


  1. Sean Maguire said..

    Great post. Thank you for this. I'm in a similar boat and just received a cortisone shot this morning and will also do some home physical therapy. I also wanted to take a look into Shiatsu and that's how I found you. You've convinced me to give it a try. I'm assuming you have been fully healed of the frozen shoulder for some time???

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About Sandra Laidley

Sandra Laidley is a writer, artist and teacher. Her special interests include the impact of complementary medicines and therapies on all kinds of health. She can be contacted on

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