Frozen Shoulder

Frozen shoulder, also known as adhesive capsulitis or shoulder contracture if you’re fancy, is a condition that causes stiffness and pain in the shoulder. According to the NHS, 1 in 20 people may be affected by frozen shoulder at any given time, so that’s a lot of people out there who are unable to shrug off their discomfort.

There are certain traits that can make you more susceptible to the condition, so if you suffer from frozen shoulder, here’s an idea of the kind of company you’re keeping. You’re more likely to experience frozen shoulder if:

  • You’re female
  • You’ve suffered an injury to your shoulder in the past
  • You’re diabetic
  • You’re between 40 and 60 years old

Frustratingly, frozen shoulder isn’t fully understood yet and its exact cause isn’t known, but there’s plenty of information out there that can help us manage it.

What causes the shoulder to “freeze”?

Frozen shoulder develops because the joint capsule – the group of ligaments that surrounds the ball and socket structure of the shoulder – develops bands of scar tissue and becomes inflamed.

This scar tissue tends to be stiffer than the normal structure of the joint capsule and it can stop the shoulder from moving as it should. For example, when you bring your arm above your head, the joint capsule needs to stretch. If you have frozen shoulder, it can’t do this, so the capsule is put under stress and the movement is restricted. No more high fives for the foreseeable.

The reason behind this stiffening of the capsule is unknown, but the good news is that it doesn’t stay stiffened forever. We know that frozen shoulder has three phases in all:

Woman receiving treatment for a frozen shoulder

1. The painful phase

The painful phase usually lasts between 2 and 9 months, and is pretty much as advertised – You begin to experience pain and aching in the shoulder. The pain can be quite non-specific, meaning that while the discomfort is very real, it doesn’t have any specific physical symptoms that it can be attributed to. It’s usually aggravated by movements and is worst at night, often disturbing sleep.

2. The freezing phase

The freezing phase involves a progressive stiffening of the shoulder, leading to less and less movement. Thankfully, the pain usually stays at around the same level during this phase, or it might even improve. More often than not, it won’t get worse This phase can last between 4 to 12 months.
The severity of this phase varies quite a lot from patient to patient, with some people finding that their shoulder loses almost all movements, while others only find a slight restriction. If this phase is severe, you might find that some of the muscles usually used to control the shoulder become smaller and waste away due to a lack of use.

3. The thawing phase

The final phase of frozen shoulder is the thawing phase. This involves a gradual recovery of the movement of the shoulder and reduction in the amount of pain felt. You may not regain full movement of the shoulder and there can sometimes be a recurrence of pain for some at this stage. It can last from around 5 months to several years.

How can frozen shoulder be treated?

The earlier frozen shoulder is diagnosed, the quicker treatment can be given, and the better the results.
If you’re treated early during the painful phase of frozen shoulder, you’re more likely to retain better movement and make a full and speedier recovery. Your doctor may initially give you painkillers to help you to continue with your daily life and possibly even offer a corticosteroid injection to help reduce inflammation in the joint.

At Swansea Body Kinetics, we work directly on the muscles, ligaments and joint capsule surrounding the shoulder to help retain movement and reduce pain. We often work on the neck and upper back too as we’ve found that sufferers frequently compensate for the lack of shoulder movement by over-using other parts of the body. We also find that passive movement of the shoulder can help to reduce pain, as we can take the joint through its available movement range without stressing the muscles.

As well as manual treatment, we offer advice on good movement exercises that you can do at home to strengthen the muscles surrounding your shoulder and keep as much movement as possible.

The important thing to remember if you’re suffering with frozen shoulder is that it’s self limiting. This means that the pain will eventually subside and you will regain some or all of your movement eventually.

If you’re concerned that you might be suffering with frozen shoulder, we’d recommend seeking help as soon as possible to give yourself the best chance of recovery. Give the clinic a call and we’ll see what we can do to help you give your frozen shoulder the cold shoulder!

Don’t just put up with pain…

If your shoulder is hurting you, there is no reason you should have to put up with discomfort and pain…

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