What is Frozen Shoulder

Adhesive Capsulitis or "frozen shoulder" is a condition of the shoulder joint capsule (the ligaments which surround the shoulder joint) that results in pain, limited mobility, and substantial limitations. As the condition worsens, your range of motion decreases and your shoulder is physically incapable of movement.

There are three stages of frozen shoulder:

  • Painful Stage - Pain increases with movement and shoulder range of motion decreases.
  • Frozen Stage - Pain may decrease but the stiffening increases. Limitation is becoming more noticeable.
  • Thawing Stage - Range of motion begins to improve and healing has begun.

Frozen Shoulder Video

How does frozen shoulder happen and how long will it last?

The shoulder capsule surrounds the shoulder joint. As the shoulder capsule becomes inflamed and irritated, it begins to develop scar tissue (or fibrotic adhesions) that prevent movement of the capsule. The capsule stiffens and becomes more rigid, and restricts normal movement. It can become difficult or even impossible to reach behind or comb your hair. Everyday activities such as this can become painful or intolerable. At its worst, frozen shoulder can restrict your shoulder motion to a few degrees in front or to the side-essentially limiting any movement.

The exact cause of frozen shoulder is unknown, but can occur more commonly after shoulder injuries such as playing tennis, falling off the curb while running the streets of Chandler, from falling of the ladder while trimming your palm trees, or from hammering nails to hang those pictures of your six grandchildren from Iowa on your wall. Frozen shoulder can also be caused by prolonged immobilization; i.e., having your arm in sling after your fall from above. It is more common in people over 40 with diabetes or with other systemic diseases.

Frozen shoulder can last from a few months to a year. In fact, each stage can vary in duration-from one to several months.

What are the symptoms of frozen shoulder?

  • Shoulder Pain
  • Loss of Shoulder Motion

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What are the treatments for frozen shoulder?

Treatment for frozen shoulder will include the processes to decrease inflammation of the shoulder capsule such as electrical therapy, ultrasound, and icing. Methods such as stretching and massage therapy will be employed to relax the tight muscles of the shoulder. Exercises to increase strength and improve upon the physical limitations are very important and will be also be part of your treatment plan.

A more complicated issue to address and correct is that the joint capsule scar tissue (adhesion) is quite difficult to treat and break up. Therefore, aggressive treatment is needed to break up this scar tissue. Manual muscle therapy, massage therapy, and provider assisted stretching may be used to break up this scar tissue, but often The Graston Technique is used either alone or in combination with the aforementioned treatments, to accomplish this. The Graston Technique is literally a tool which breaks up this scar tissue and will very quickly restore shoulder motion. Utilizing The Graston Technique can reduce treatment times from months to weeks. As it is so effective, you are strongly recommended to seek a provider who utilizes The Graston Technique if you indeed have adhesive capsulitis or "frozen shoulder".

Additional treatment options include Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), corticosteroids, surgery, manipulation under anesthesia, or acupuncture. See a health care provider to discuss these options.

What are some things I can do at home to prevent the recurrence of frozen shoulder?

At home it is very important to maintain shoulder range of motion through your prescribed stretches and exercises. Also, your care provider may ask you to apply ice to to your frozen shoulder to reduce or minimize inflammation.

Why should I seek care for frozen shoulder?

Proper treatment of frozen shoulder can accelerate the healing process by several months and therefore should begin sooner than later.

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