Do You Have Anger Frozen In Your Shoulder?

Larry Burk, MD, CEHP
Thrive Global
Published in
3 min readJan 2, 2017

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Repressed anger can trigger a frozen shoulder. Photo credit: Dagmar Ehling

EFT for Adhesive Capsulitis

My right shoulder started to hurt after some mild exercise in the fall of 2006 without a specific injury. It got progressively worse over the next few days as I started to lose my range of motion. As an academic musculoskeletal radiologist specializing in shoulder MRI who also practices as a holistic coach I knew right away what was happening. I was in the early stages of developing a frozen shoulder, also known as adhesive capsulitis, an inflammatory process of the synovial lining of the joint.

It typically progresses from initial pain to eventual complete loss of motion as the inflammation turns to rigid fibrosis which may last several years. Orthopedic surgeons consider it idiopathic as they don’t understand the cause; rheumatologists may prescribe anti-inflammatory medications with limited success; and physical therapists often have little to offer as their usual exercises just cause more pain. It has been described as T. Rex disease due to the range of motion being limited like the tiny arms of the terrible predator.

Fortunately, one of my acupuncture mentors, Dr. Michael Greenwood, had previously taught me that a frozen shoulder may be initiated by a traumatic event leading to repressed anger, most commonly seen in middle-aged women who may be overwhelmed by an abundance of family stresses and responsibilities. Surgery is a last resort for dealing with this enigmatic condition, and during the operation the synovial lining is usually found to be angry red in appearance, a metaphor for the underlying emotion trapped in the shoulder.

I knew I didn’t want to have surgery or to spend the next couple years waiting for my shoulder to heal, so I started searching for the source of my anger. I didn’t need to look far, as I had become a political activist for the first time in my life during the 2004 presidential campaign. My frustration with the election results had been building throughout Bush’s second term, and I felt powerless to do anything about it.

After a therapeutic massage yielded no positive results, I knew it was time to use Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) which I had originally learned in 2002 to assist clients in dealing with stress after car accidents. I had also previously used EFT tapping successfully with a patient of mine who had a frozen shoulder. After being frozen for 6 months she had rapid recovery of her shoulder function once she realized it was related to anger about her closest friend moving away unexpectedly without even saying goodbye and used acupuncture and EFT to release it.

Tapping emphatically, which means while screaming or crying, assisted me in expressing my anger and thawing my shoulder in only a couple months rather than a couple years. What I was dealing with has been described as a symbolic somatic metaphor by my newest mentor, University of Auckland rheumatologist/immunologist/psychiatrist Brian Broom, in his pioneering work with whole person healthcare. Preliminary research on EFT for frozen shoulder has shown some promising results in transforming these emotional blocks.

Unfortunately, I have found that most people with frozen shoulder are very angry about the pain and restricted motion, but have little awareness that they might have gotten angry just before it froze. The suggestion that they may be dealing with a mind-body-spirit issue sometimes just makes them more angry instead of giving them hope. However, while on the expensive and painful quest for healing, it may be fruitful to explore and release whatever triggered the shoulder to freeze in the first place.

To release those emotional blocks, I am offering an in-person workshop, Where the Healing Happens: Transforming Symptoms in the Lower 4 Chakras, on 4/19–21/2024 at the Art of Living Retreat Center in Boone, NC. The scientific evidence and basic principles will be reviewed followed by mind-body-spirit self-healing experiential exercises focused on the emotions of fear, anger, shame and grief. Individual Let Magic Happen coaching sessions are also available.

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Larry Burk, MD, CEHP
Thrive Global

Holistic radiologist, Certified Energy Health Practitioner, author of Dreams that Can Save Your Life: Early Warning Signs of Cancer and Other Diseases