What Is Frozen Shoulder and how do I know if I have it?

You may have heard the term ‘frozen shoulder’ from family, friends or medical professionals and are worried that you may have it.  Below is everything you need to know about Frozen Shoulder. As Physiotherapists we treat this condition regularly. It can be one of the most painful and slowest conditions to recover, so many patients have questions about it.

The medical term for Frozen Shoulder is Adhesive Capsulitis and it is characterized by a painful and significant loss of range of motion of the shoulder joint. Frozen shoulder has three distinct stages:

Freezing

In this stage the shoulder is acutely painful and is becoming stiff. Often patients in this stage will have pain even when they are not moving their shoulder.

Frozen

In this stage your pain might actually start to improve, but your shoulder will be extremely stiff and you will have difficulty performing daily activities such as: washing your hair; reaching into your back pocket; or lifting your arm above your head to access tall cupboards..

Thawing

In the thawing stage, your shoulder slowly loosens up and you begin to regain your ability to move it again. This part of the recovery can be very prolonged if left untreated.

What causes Frozen Shoulder?

Frozen Shoulder occurs when the capsule surrounding the shoulder joint thickens and tightens around the joint limiting its ability to move. Research is still inconclusive around what causes this thickening/tightening to occur. We do know Frozen Shoulder typically affects people between the ages of 40 to 60, and it is more common in women. Research has also found the following conditions put individuals at greater risk of developing Frozen Shoulder:

  1. Immobilization – i.e. in a sling or after a fracture/trauma/surgery such as mastectomy
  2. Diabetes
  3. Having had frozen shoulder previously
  4. Thyroid conditions
  5. Parkinson’s disease
  6. Cardiovascular disease
  7. Tuberculosis

Can I prevent my shoulder from “freezing”?

As shown in the risks above, research has shown that prolonged immobility of the shoulder greatly increases the risk of developing this condition. So if you have had a fracture, surgery or a sprain/strain of the shoulder, once you are given medical clearance to do so… start moving! Even though it may be painful to move in the early stages of recovery after a trauma, it is important to start moving the shoulder as soon as you are allowed to. A Physiotherapist can help guide you in terms of what is appropriate, specific exercises to do, and what to expect in terms of discomfort based on your particular injury.

How long does Frozen Shoulder take to get better?

The time frame for recovery varies greatly but generally, you can expect anywhere from one to three years until your shoulder feel total normal again. Each stage of recovery–freezing, frozen, and thawing–has a wide range of recovery time. And one of the biggest factors in minimizing these recovery times is whether the individual is doing the appropriate exercises for each stage. Typically, the freezing stage lasts from six weeks to 9 months; the frozen stage lasts four to six months; and the thawing stage lasts six months to two years.

What are effective treatments for Frozen Shoulder?

Conservative

The good news is that most people with this condition will get better without needing surgery. Typical non-surgical treatment is Physical Therapy and daily range of motion exercises. As mentioned earlier, your commitment to performing the exercises will be key in shortening your recovery time. Anti-inflammatory medication might also be recommended to manage the pain and inflammation. A trained Physiotherapist will perform hands-on treatment to help improve your mobility and guide you in terms of specific exercises you should be working on at each stage in order to help you recover as quickly as possible. Some Physiotherapists also perform Acupuncture and/or dry needling to help decrease pain and muscle tension in the area.

Surgical Interventions

Generally speaking Physiotherapy and time are effective in dealing with frozen shoulder. But in a few rare cases, your Physiotherapist or Doctor may recommend surgical intervention. The most common surgical interventions for this condition include: steroid injections into the shoulder joint; distension of the shoulder capsule by injecting sterile water into the joint; manipulation of your shoulder while you are under anesthetic; or arthroscopic surgery.

My shoulder hurts and I have limited mobility. How do I know if I have Frozen Shoulder?

The hallmark signs of Frozen Shoulder are pain, and a significant loss of shoulder range of motion in all directions. If you are noticing these signs, we suggest you seek a medical professional’s opinion just to be sure. Frozen Shoulder can be diagnosed from signs/symptoms during a clinical exam alone. During an assessment with one of our Physiotherapists, they will ask you questions about your shoulder, and perform a thorough hands-on assessment looking at mobility, strength, flexibility and other tests to determine the root cause of your symptoms. Once they have determined the cause/condition, they will educate you on what you can expect and provide you with exercises to help you get better faster.

Frozen shoulder is a challenging condition for many people. It impacts their quality of life and their ability to function normally. But you do not have to do it alone. Our skilled Physiotherapists can help ease the pain and recover your range of motion. Click here and contact us today!