The Causes & Treatments for a Frozen Shoulder

If you’re wondering what is a frozen shoulder then you’re probably having pain ranging from mild to extremely severe within your shoulder and arm. A frozen shoulder is a condition in which connective tissues around the glen humeral shoulder joint and the shoulder capsule become stiff, inflamed and experience restricted motion. These lead to chronic pain around the shoulder region. The condition may also be referred to as adhesive capsulitis. What is a frozen shoulder and what causes it are some of the questions that many people have. Well not any more… Throughout this article, the causes, symptoms as well as curative measures for this condition will be discussed.

Overview of What The Term ‘Frozen Shoulder’ Means

Frozen Shoulder Diagram

This diagram shows the shoulder capsule that plays a central role in frozen shoulders. Image (c) American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons

The condition causes stiffness as well as pain to the affected shoulder. With time, the affected shoulder may become very hard to move. Based on statistics, frozen shoulders affect about 2 percent of the population. Generally, the condition occurs in people between the age of forty and sixty years with women being more prone to the condition than men.

When a shoulder is affected by this condition, the capsule thickens and tightens, stiff tissues which are referred to as adhesions develop and synovial fluid level in the joint reduces.

Causes of Frozen Shoulders

The human shoulder is made up of tendons, ligaments and bones. These components are enclosed in a capsule that is made of connective tissues. Frozen shoulder befalls when these connective tissues thicken and tighten hence restricting movement by the shoulder. Currently, the specific cause of this condition has not been identified but several factors have been proven to predispose people to frozen shoulders. Those factors are:

  • Immobilization of the shoulder: Immobilization for a long period of time can lead to this condition. Immobilization may be as a result of fracture, surgery or any injury. A frozen shoulder in this case may be prevented by having the patients move their shoulders soon after an injury.
  • Diabetes: This condition is known to affect about ten to twenty percent of diabetes patients. Although the reason behind this is not yet known, there is a clear link between the two.

Symptoms of a Frozen Shoulder

The condition normally develops gradually in three stages. Each stage of the condition on average lasts about a month or two. The stages are:

  1. The painful stage – it is in this stage of the condition that pain is experienced with any movement of the shoulder. This pain limits the range of motion of the shoulder.
  2. The frozen stage - during this stage, the pain in the shoulder may diminish by a certain amount and the range of motion of the shoulder remarkably decreases.
  3. The ‘thawing’ stage - the range of motion starts to improve in this stage.

In some patients, the pain associated to this condition worsens during the night, sometimes disrupting sleeping patterns.

How to Treat A Shoulder That is Frozen

This condition may heal by itself but the period of healing can be quite long, taking up to 3 years in some cases. Treatment in the case of a frozen shoulder / adhesive capsulitis is aimed at minimizing the pain, restoring motion and regaining shoulder strength. All these can be achieved through a number of ways including:

  • Nonsurgical TreatmentAnti-inflammatory and non-steroidal drugs like ibuprofen and aspirin are used to reduce the swelling and the pain. Cortisone, an anti-inflammatory medicine is injected into the shoulder joint.
  • Physical TherapyCertain exercises may be used to restore motion in the joint. This can be done either at home or under the supervision of a therapist. The therapy should comprise of shoulder range of motion exercises and stretching exercises such as: external rotation, passive stretch, forward flexion and crossover arm stretch.

Hopefully the above information has given you an answer to your question of what exactly is a frozen shoulder, what causes it and how it can be treated. Obviously you will want to get a proper diagnosis from your medical practitioner (family doctor or physiotherapist / physical therapist) prior to attempting any kind of self-treatment.

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