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Frozen Shoulder

Frozen Shoulder

What is Frozen Shoulder?

Frozen shoulder is a painful condition that makes it hard to lift or move the shoulder due to tightening and thickening of the shoulder capsule.

StagesCauses | Symptoms | Treatment | Prevention

What is a Shoulder Capsule?

The shoulder capsule is strong connective tissue that surrounds the bones, ligaments and tendons that make up your shoulder joint where the upper arm bone fits into the shoulder blade socket.

What are the Stages of Frozen Shoulder?

Frozen shoulder can last anywhere from one to three years and happens in three stages:

  • Freezing: Lasting anywhere from six weeks to nine months, in the freezing stage the shoulder slowly loses range of motion as pain and stiffness gradually increase. Daily activities such as reaching and stretching become more difficult and painful.
  • Frozen: Lasting from four to twelve months, the frozen stage sees a decrease in pain, but the shoulder will remain stiff, and the muscle may begin to waste away. Everyday movements such as lifting the arm over the head may be difficult or impossible.
  • Thawing: Lasting from six months to two years, the thawing stage sees the range of motion in the shoulder slowly improving and other symptoms gradually decrease as the shoulder joint “thaws.”

What Causes Frozen Shoulder?

Medical diagram of frozen shoulder showing a build up of scar tissue in the shoulder capsule

The exact cause of frozen shoulder is still not fully known. However, some known risk factors can increase your chance of developing frozen shoulder, including:

  • Diabetes
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Cardiac disease
  • Stroke
  • Shoulder injury
  • Shoulder surgery
  • Being immobile for a period
  • Age, frozen shoulder is most common in people aged 40-60 years
  • Gender, frozen shoulder is more common in women

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Frozen Shoulder?

Common signs and symptoms of frozen shoulder include stiffness in the shoulder, shoulder pain, and a reduced range of motion in the shoulder joint. Other symptoms of frozen shoulder include:

  • Difficulty sleeping on the affected side
  • Unable to lift your arm over your head
  • Can reach your arm into your back pocket
  • Pain when moving the shoulder
  • Pain over the outer shoulder and occasionally the upper arm
  • Shoulder pain that gets worse at night

How is Frozen Shoulder Treated?

The goal of frozen shoulder treatment is to reduce pain and inflammation and restore movement to the shoulder. You can manage symptoms of frozen shoulder at home using:

  • Physiotherapy: Stretching, and pain relieving exercises help increase range of motion and reduce recovery time
  • Over-the-counter medications: Aspirin or ibuprofen will ease pain and swelling
  • Cortisone Injections: Injected directly into the joint, cortisone is an anti-inflammatory medication that will help alleviate pain and swelling
  • Hydrodilatation: Large amounts of fluid are injected into the shoulder capsule to help stretch and expand it. This is a more invasive procedure used when other treatment methods aren’t successful
  • Arthroscopic shoulder surgery: Small cuts are made in the tightest parts of the shoulder capsule

Physiotherapy for Frozen Shoulder

Physiotherapy is proven effective in lowering the recovery time of frozen shoulder to as little at six months. Depending on the stage of your frozen shoulder, a physiotherapist may use any of the following treatments in your custom therapy plan:

  • Heat and cold therapy
  • Gentle passive stretching
  • Range of motion exercises
  • Trigger point dry needling
  • Therapeutic ultrasound
  • Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS)

Can Frozen Shoulder go Away on its own?

Yes. Frozen shoulder typically goes away on its own in one to three years after going through all of the stages. However, you can shorten your recovery time to as little as six months if you seek physiotherapy treatment which will also reduce pain and improve your range of motion.

Can you Prevent Frozen Shoulder?

Yes. One of the most common causes of frozen shoulder is not moving (or immobility) following a surgery, broken arm, or stroke. Following an injury, illness or accident, speak to a physiotherapist about preventative care for frozen shoulder.