Defrosting the Frozen Shoulder

Back pain concept.Defrosting the Frozen Shoulder

Adhesive capsulitis, or frozen shoulder, is a troubling problem which seems to arise out of nowhere. It is marked by gripping/aching pain in the shoulder (which typically runs half way down the outside of the upper arm). Within a few weeks stiffness accompanies the pain and one ends up with limited shoulder motion—especially when attempting to reach behind the back or up overhead. Its “target audience” is women ages 40-70, though men can certainly become affected as well.

The name “adhesive capsulitis” describes the condition where the “folds” of the shoulder capsule (the encasement that holds the two bones together) become inflamed (-“itis”), and adhere to itself, thus limiting its movement. And while the frozen shoulder syndrome most certainly can “come out of nowhere”, it can also result from direct trauma, immobilization, or an underlying medical issue such as diabetes, thyroid, or cardiovascular disease.

Here’s the typical progression of a frozen shoulder:

Painful Stage- One recognizes that their shoulder (and soon their upper arm) is aching on a regular basis. The pain may wake the person up at night when they roll onto the affected shoulder.

Frozen Stage- Motion becomes progressively limited. First limitation noted may be behind the back reach as with putting on a coat, tucking in a shirt or fastening a bra, followed by inability to reach fully overhead.

Thawing Stage- The person experiences a gradual reduction in pain level and a freeing up of motions that were previously hindered.

The treatment for adhesive capsulitis has not changed much in the last three decades. Physicians typically prescribe anti-inflammatory medications to address the inflammation component and patients are directed to participate in regular physical therapy sessions to improve mobility. In severe cases, Orthopedists may inject the joint with anti-inflammatory medication.

The real troubling aspect of having a frozen shoulder, apart from the pain and stiffness, is that it can take up to 6-9 months to recover with treatment and up to 2 years without treatment! So if you feel that your shoulder is beginning to get a bit “frosty”, best head to the doctor and begin physical therapy ASAP.


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