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Frozen Shoulder

Simply put, frozen shoulder refers to a condition that affects your shoulder joint. The condition is commonly associated with pain and stiffness that develops over time, gradually becoming worse. It’s not all bad news, as once it has got worse, frozen shoulder will eventually go away. However, you can’t expect this to happen overnight. Instead, it can take anywhere from one to three years to overcome frozen shoulder. 

Thankfully, frozen shoulder can be treated with plenty of shoulder specific exercises and painkillers when required. However, to manage such a condition, it’s essential that you understand what it is and how it can affect your health. Of course, we’re on hand with everything and anything that you need to know. So, stick with us, and you’ll be waving goodbye to the discomfort of frozen shoulder.

What is frozen shoulder? 

Beyond a definition in its simplest form, one needs to understand frozen shoulder symptoms, frozen shoulder treatment and frozen shoulder causes. We’ll start with the most important, what is frozen shoulder?

Our shoulder is made up of three bones that form a ball-and-socket joint. These three bones are our upper arm (humerus), shoulder blade (scapula), and the collarbone (clavicle). Beyond the bones, there is a tissue that surrounds our shoulder joint, which holds everything in place as it should be. This tissue is referred to as the shoulder capsule. The three bones that make up the joint are covered with smooth cartilage as our joints are lubricated with a special fluid that allows us to move freely. 

For individuals suffering from frozen shoulder, the capsule becomes so tight and heavy that it is hard to move. As it becomes thickened, the capsule can also become scarred, which eventually limits movement even more. In plain terms, frozen shoulder is as the name suggests. It may also be referred to as adhesive capsulitis and contracted shoulder. 

Around three out of 100 people will suffer the uncomfortable symptoms of frozen shoulder at some point in their life. While it can occur at any age, you’re most likely to suffer from frozen shoulder when you’re aged between 40 and 60. Furthermore, frozen shoulder is a condition that is slightly more common among women. Beyond age and gender, people with certain conditions such as heart problems, neck problems, diabetes or lung disease can become more likely to contract frozen shoulder.

What are the main causes of frozen shoulder? 

From general movements and home life, to work, sports and pre-existing medical conditions, there are several things that may cause frozen shoulder. However, the exact cause is not fully understood. With that said, most people who suffer from frozen shoulder have experienced some sort of immobility as a result of a recent injury. 

While frozen shoulder is often a result of some kind of shoulder or upper-body injury, a bone fracture or surgery, it can also occur after other types of surgery, including procedures on the brain or heart. 

Beyond injury and trauma, frozen shoulder can also occur without a preceding injury as it tends to affect people that suffer from particular conditions and diseases. As mentioned previously, individuals with diabetes and other health conditions are also more likely to experience frozen shoulder. In fact, between 10 and 20 percent of people who suffer from diabetes develop the condition over time

Andrew, one of our readers, is a type one diabetic in his early 40s who was told there’s a 90% chance that he would suffer from frozen shoulder once again, five years after his first injury was healed with physio five years prior. 

Frozen shoulder also seems to be common among individuals who have:

  • Been immobilised for a long period of time, as a result of injury, illness or surgery.
  • Suffered from a stroke 
  • Have Parkinson disease 
  • Are taking medication of the antiretroviral nature to treat HIV infection
  • Suffer from diseases that affect the thyroid gland (the gland in our neck that produces hormones and controls how our body is able to store and utilise energy).

While it can be difficult to pinpoint an exact cause of frozen shoulder, experts suspect that it develops when our joints become inflamed, causing scar tissue to form. Over time, the tissues that support the three bones that make up the ball and socket joint will shrink and harden, making it increasingly difficult to move as we usually would.

What are the symptoms of frozen shoulder?  

As with all medical conditions, it’s essential that we can identify and understand the symptoms so we can take steps for prevention and repair. Frozen shoulder can be a daunting experience, as it will likely limit the functional use of your arm, as well as bringing you potential years of pain and discomfort.  

When you’re suffering from frozen shoulder, reaching overhead, stretching your arm and performing simple day to day activities can become difficult. Unfortunately, there is no specific test for the diagnosis of frozen shoulder. Furthermore, there is no diagnostic test such as an MRI or x-ray; that can confirm the condition. Instead, a diagnosis can be made by observing the range of motion of your shoulder.

If you suspect that you’re suffering from frozen shoulder, there is a simple, self-performed frozen shoulder test that you can try out to assess the movement of your arms and shoulders. 

  1. Stand in front of a mirror or a friend so that someone is able to observe you as you complete the test. 
  2. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and slowly raise your arms up in front of you and overhead, if you can. If you’re suffering from frozen shoulder, the arm/shoulder where you’re experiencing pain may only raise to a point where it sits just parallel with the floor. Slowly lower your arms to the starting position, being mindful that you’re not pushing your body too far. 
  3. Then, slowly lift your arms out to the side while closely observing the amount of motion. If you’re struggling to move your arm but outwards and upwards, it’s likely that you have frozen shoulder.

If you believe you have frozen shoulder, you should consult a doctor, physical therapist or a medical professional of your choice so that they are able to evaluate your condition. 

Of course, the primary and most obvious symptom of frozen shoulder is discomfort, pain and stiffness that makes it also impossible or very difficult to move your shoulder and arm. However, there may be some niggling signs to watch out before this becomes your reality. 

If you’re developing frozen shoulder, you’ll more than likely experience a full and achy pain in one shoulder. You might also feel pain in the shoulder muscles that sit at the top of your arm, helping you to move. Similarly, you could feel the same sensation in the muscles that wrap around the top of arm. In some cases, this pain will worsen at night, causing a lack of sleep, often making the symptoms even more inconvenient. 

There are three phases that you will endure when you’re suffering from frozen shoulder. Each of these frozen shoulder stages offers unique symptoms and timeline. These are the freezing stage, the frozen stage and the thawing stage. All of which are uncomfortable and long-lasting.

Freezing stage: 

During the freezing stage, you’ll develop a pain, sometimes quite severe in your shoulder. It will be most noticeable each time you try to move your shoulder, rather than being a constant discomfort. This pain and discomfort will slowly worsen over time, and it’s likely to hurt more during the night. The freezing stage can last anywhere from six to nine months. Be aware that this is a guide, for some; it can be shorter and for others, significantly longer. 

 

Frozen stage: 

During the frozen stage, it’s common that the pain you’re experienced might get better. However, the stiffness gets worse. As you try to complete normal movements and daily activities, it’s likely that moving your shoulder becomes more difficult, often hindering you from doing the stuff you usually would. The frozen stage often lasts for around four to twelve months. However, all cases are different, so don’t take that timeframe as gospel.

 

Thawing stage: 

As you enter the thawing stage, your range of motion will slowly but surely get back to normal. With that said, it’s essential that you listen to your body and its limits during the thawing stage. It’s not unlikely for the thawing stage to take anywhere from 6 months to a staggering two years. So, patience is a virtue.

 

How else can frozen shoulder impact your health? 

Not only does frozen shoulder cause pain and discomfort, but it also limits free movement: 

basic movements such as reaching up to high cupboards to brushing our hair, even the little things can become an uphill battle. 

Of course, if you can’t perform daily tasks, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to keep up with regular exercise or sporting activities. If you like to stay active but frozen shoulder is limiting you, it’s important that you identify exercises and activities that you are able to do without causing injury or increased pain.  

Because frozen shoulder is a condition that can last for months, if not years, it limits you from carrying out all kinds of things. Beyond the inconvenience of not being able to complete the tasks you usually would, a fair amount of pain and discomfort is also associated with frozen shoulder. Managing and monitoring the pain related to your frozen shoulder injury is also essential to ensure that it doesn’t impact your overall health. 

As with all injuries and conditions, it’s important to be mindful of the overall health implications as we listen to our body and respect its abilities. Refusing to do so can often lead to longer recovery times and increased pain. 

How to treat, reduce and prevent frozen shoulder?

When it comes to frozen shoulder treatment, you can rest assured that you won’t find any quick fixes. However, there are plenty of options when it comes to types of treatment for frozen shoulder, pain relief for frozen shoulder and the types of exercises to reduce frozen shoulder. 

With frozen shoulder, you can utilise different exercises paired with pain relief where necessary to reduce the symptoms you’ll experience. Will pain relief is good for a quick fix when you’re in discomfort; it’s important that you incorporate some exercise into your recovery. 

Before you take on exercises in the comfort of your own home, it’s advised that you pay a visit to a health expert and/or physio. You must understand which exercises will truly benefit you and help you to not only repair your shoulder but prevent the same injury from occurring again. 

No matter what exercises you’re trying, it’s essential that you warm your shoulder beforehand. The best way to do so with limited movement is to take a hot bath or shower for 10 to 15 minutes. If this isn’t an option, you can also try a damp towel heated in the microwave or a heating pad, although it’s worth noting that this might be as effective.  

Beyond home exercises, a physical therapist can help to teach you a vast and varied range of motion exercises that will help with your recovery and encourage plenty of mobility in your shoulder. With that said, there’s only so much a physical therapist can do. After all, it’s their job to guide you safely. Your commitment to carrying out these exercises is essential to optimise your recovery. 

As mentioned above, alongside exercise, you can also try medication to lessen the pain and symptoms associated with frozen shoulder. Over the counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen, aspirin or paracetamol can often help. However, in some cases, a health care professional may choose to prescribe you strong pain-relievers and anti-inflammatory drugs. 

If you’re suffering from persistent symptoms, your doctor may also suggest: 

  • Steroid injections: if you require injections, a doctor will administer corticosteroids into your shoulder joint to help to relieve any pain and increase the mobility. This type of treatment is most commonly utilised at the early stages of frozen shoulder. 
  • Joint distension: the process of joint distension involves injecting sterile water into the tissue around the three shoulder bones, which will help the tissue to stretch, making it easier to move the joint. 
  • Shoulder manipulation: while this is often the last resort for many, shoulder manipulation involves a general aesthetic as a doctor moves your shoulder joint in various directions to aid in loosening the tight tissues. 
  • Surgery: while frozen shoulder surgery is extremely rare, it may be the only option if nothing else has helped. During surgery, scar tissue and adhesions from your shoulder joint will be removed to help motion and relieve pain.

While frozen shoulder is a long-lasting condition, that can cause ongoing pain and discomfort; there are steps you can take to make each stage of the condition more manageable. From home remedies and over the counter pain medication to seeking professional help from doctors and physical therapists, you must listen to the experts when it comes to life-changing conditions such as this. 

While you can carry out a frozen shoulder test relatively easily yourself, you should seek professional help if you’re experiencing the symptoms. While frozen shoulder is curable over time, understanding how to treat it is essential to a full recovery. 

There is plenty of support on our site, and you can trust our knowledgeable gurus to help you with all of your questions regarding frozen shoulder and the pain and discomfort associated with the condition. From frozen shoulder treatment to dealing with the limitations that come with it, we’re on hand to help you through every step of your treatment and recovery.


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