Have you ever felt like lifting your arm is nearly impossible? Perhaps you’ve tried rotating your shoulder, and it’s caused you a great deal of pain. One of the reasons for your pain might be a condition known as ‘frozen shoulder’. The name is probably a giveaway, but this condition makes you feel your shoulder is frozen in place or extremely difficult to move. So, if you’ve been having unexplained shoulder pain, you may need to consider the possibility that you have frozen shoulder.
In this article, we’ll look at what frozen shoulder is, its symptoms, and some ways to treat the condition effectively.
What is frozen shoulder?
Frozen shoulder, medically known as adhesive capsulitis, is a common condition where the shoulder becomes stiff, painful and limited in its range of motion. To explain the condition, you need to understand the components of your shoulder joint: the upper arm bone (humerus) and the clavicle (collarbone). Surrounding these major structures are a series of tendons and ligaments, which can also become injured, making it difficult to quickly identify adhesive capsulitis.
These vital tendons are ligaments are protected by a ‘capsule’ of connective tissue that keeps them safe. However, in some cases, this capsule becomes thicker and inflamed, leading to pain and reduced mobility.
Frozen shoulder symptoms
When you experience frozen shoulder, the symptoms are quite clear. You’ll feel stiffness, limited shoulder joint movement, and, most likely, pain (especially when using your shoulder). However, the condition is known to present in three different stages.
‘Freezing’ or ‘Inflammatory’ Phase
The freezing stage is when your shoulder begins to stiffen. During this stage, the pain will most likely increase gradually until it reaches a point where your shoulder feels locked. Some sufferers report feeling as though the shoulder joint is stuck to the bones.
‘Frozen’ or ‘Stiffness Phase’
When you reach the frozen stage, you’ll have extremely limited movement in your shoulder in more than 3 of the 4 cardinal movements of the shoulder. You may notice the pain decreases somewhat, but the stiffness remains. During this stage, you still experience pain when trying to move your shoulder.
‘Thawing’ or ‘Resolution Phase’
Easily the best part of adhesive capsulitis is the thawing stage, when you start to experience relief. Your pain eases, and you start to regain shoulder joint movement. The problem is that without treatment, this is a long-term proposition. Typically, it can take 1-3 years to reach this stage.The key is knowing when and how vigorous one can start pushing the shoulder to restore the range of motion
Frozen shoulder causes
To date, there is no clear and definitive cause for frozen shoulder. Often, it can occur after an arm or shoulder injury. Also upper-body surgery can also play a role. While the reason isn’t easy to define, a few factors can increase your risk of developing the condition. Some of these include:
- Age – People over 40 tend to be more susceptible to frozen shoulder.
- Gender – Frozen shoulder is more common among females.
- Other medical conditions, including thyroid diseases, Parkinson’s and cardiovascular issues.
- Injury or trauma to the shoulder.
This list is not exhaustive, and more research is required to pinpoint common causes. The best way to determine whether you have frozen shoulder is to visit your medical professional or physiotherapist. Typically, a doctor can diagnose frozen shoulder without the need for X-rays and other scans, but every situation is different.
Frozen shoulder treatment
There are multiple ways to treat frozen shoulder, depending on the severity, cause and other health circumstances. Physiotherapy is always a good option, not just for treatment but also prevention. Patients often move from one health practitioner to the next, seeking a cure and spending large amounts of money on unnecessary treatments. Patient education and awareness is critical to ensure that the patient understands the condition, and has realistic expectations of timeframes for recovery and how to manage each individual phase of the condition. Towards the latter phases, strengthening the muscles around your shoulder is always useful, and your physio plays a key role here by teaching you a graduated program of exercises. But there are also some other treatment methods to consider.
As with any musculoskeletal injury, physiotherapy tops the list of treatments. Your physio will assess the condition and your overall health to determine the appropriate treatment, which may include:
- Massage or dry needling
- Manual therapy to improve mobility
- Exercises to strengthen the area
- Advice about posture and positioning to ease your pain
Everybody is different, so your trusted physiotherapist should implement a tailored treatment plan that considers all your needs.
One of the worst things about frozen shoulder is the pain. Some people experience a dull ache, but it is more severe for many, especially when using your arm or shoulder. For this, your doctor may recommend paracetamol or other pain relief medications. As we mentioned, this is not a long-term fix and should be used in conjunction with other treatment methods.
You might also be advised to ice and rest the shoulder when possible, with acupuncture also being an effective adjunct in helping relieve the pain
If pain relief and physiotherapy don’t work for you, there are other options. Your doctor may recommend joint injections such as cortisone or hydra-dilatation. If nothing else works, a surgeon can perform an arthroscopy to unstick the shoulder capsule, but this procedure is performed infrequently and only used as a last resort.
If you’d like to know more about frozen shoulder treatment or you’re experiencing pain now, MGS Physio is here to help. Make a booking today, and our friendly, experienced physiotherapists will assess your symptoms and recommend the right treatment.