If you’ve had a nagging pain in your shoulder or can’t quite reach the top shelf lately, you may be suffering from frozen shoulder.
What is Frozen Shoulder?
Adhesive capsulitis, commonly known as frozen shoulder, is a common ailment. As the name implies, frozen shoulder presents with extreme stiffness and limited range of motion in the shoulder joint. Typically the stiffness begins gradually and then becomes more severe. During this early freezing stage, patients experience pain and their range of motion becomes more restrictive.
In the next stage, called the frozen stage, the range of motion becomes so limited that patients may not be able to lift their arm above their head. Typically pain begins to decrease at this point, even though the range of motion becomes worse. Finally, the thawing stage will see some improvement in range of motion as the shoulder starts to relax again.
Moving through the stages is a long process. The freezing stage can last months and the frozen and thawing stages can take one to three years to completely get back to normal.
There is no single direct cause for frozen shoulder, but according to the Mayo Clinic, it is more common in diabetics, those with thyroid issues, and patients recovering from ailments that limit movement of the arm. It can also stem from a mild injury caused by something as simple as throwing a ball or catching your arm on a wall while walking. Adhesive capsulitis is more common in women than men and most commonly affects patients between the ages of 40 and 60.
Your doctor can typically diagnose adhesive capsulitis with a physical exam. However, he or she may order imaging tests just to make sure there isn’t something else going on. During your exam, your doctor will ask you to move your arm in different directions to evaluate your range of motion and level of pain. He or she will likely also provide counterpressure, asking you to push against their hands in different directions. This helps identify whether the problem lies in a muscle, tendon, or ligament rather than the shoulder joint. It helps eliminate other common shoulder injuries like a torn rotator cuff.
Your doctor may tell you to take a consistent dose of ibuprofen to help with inflammation and pain. Ice and heat can help at home too. Your doctor may also suggest a cortisone shot, which is administered into the shoulder joint capsule.
Part of the reason your doctor may recommend physical therapy is to keep your shoulder from freezing up in the first place. Doctors commonly recommend range-of-motion exercises that can help keep frozen shoulder from settling in, but if it’s already limiting you, movement is still the best treatment.
Improving your range of motion can begin during any stage of frozen shoulder. Your physical therapist will walk you through exercises like the following to improve your range of motion. He or she may also use heat to relax the muscles before stretching and other techniques to help with pain, inflammation, and limited movement.
Standing a comfortable distance from a wall, place both hands on the wall in front of you. Use your fingers to walk up the wall as far as you can without serious pain.
Stabilize yourself while leaning forward 90 degrees, allowing your arms to hang naturally. Your shoulder may not allow your arm to hang straight. Regardless, move your hand in a circular motion, increasing the size of the circle as your range of motion improves.
Start facing the side of a doorway with your elbow bent at 90 degrees and the hand of your affected shoulder pressing against the inside or outside of the door jamb. Then rotate your body away from your arm for a gentle stretch.
Sitting upright or laying on your back, use your unaffected arm to pull your affected arm across your chest. Hold for 10-15 seconds for a deep stretch and release slowly.
If you’re experiencing frozen shoulder, give Encore Physical Therapy a call to see how we can help.
Mayo Clinic, Frozen Shoulder, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/frozen-shoulder/symptoms-causes/syc-20372684
Ortho Infor, Frozen Shoulder, https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases–conditions/frozen-shoulder/