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Thawing The Mystery of Frozen Shoulder

If you’ve noticed a creeping stiffness in your shoulder, a gradual pain that slowly but persistently occupies your shoulder and upper arm, you may be experiencing the symptoms of frozen shoulder. While that potential diagnosis may sound vague and ominous – and it can also be painful and debilitating – most people with frozen shoulder can regain mobility and reduce pain with the right treatment.

What exactly is “frozen shoulder?”

Frozen shoulder occurs when the capsule surrounding the shoulder joint becomes inflamed and thickened, causing the joint to tighten and restrict movement. This can lead to significant pain and reduced mobility in the shoulder.

Known as adhesive capsulitis, this condition typically develops gradually, with symptoms worsening over time. This condition can significantly affect daily activities including work, sports participation, and recreational pursuits.

What are the symptoms of frozen shoulder?

The primary symptoms of frozen shoulder include pain and stiffness in the shoulder joint. The pain is typically felt deep within the shoulder and may worsen at night or when you’re using the arm. The stiffness can make it difficult to perform daily activities, such as reaching overhead, dressing, and carrying objects.

There are three phases of frozen shoulder:

  • Freezing phase: During this phase, the shoulder gradually becomes more painful and stiff, making it difficult to move the arm.
  • Frozen phase: In this phase, the pain may begin to improve, but the stiffness remains, making it difficult to move the arm.
  • Thawing phase: During this phase, the shoulder gradually regains mobility, and the pain and stiffness begin to improve.

What causes frozen shoulder?

It’s unclear why frozen shoulder impacts some people and not others, but it is most likely attributed to keeping a shoulder still for too long, particularly because of medical conditions such as:

  • Rotator cuff injury
  • Broken arm
  • Stroke
  • Recovery from surgery

There are other factors that may increase the risk of developing frozen shoulder, including people who are:

  • Age 40 and older
  • Female
  • Those with systemic diseases, including diabetes, hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, cardiovascular disease, and Parkinson’s disease

Ways to prevent

One of the most common causes of frozen shoulder is not moving a shoulder while recovering from a shoulder injury, broken arm, or stroke. If you’ve had an injury that makes it difficult to move your shoulder, talk to your healthcare provider about exercises that can help you maintain your ability to move your shoulder joint.

How is frozen shoulder treated or prevented?

Treatment and prevention of frozen shoulder are closely connected. If you have an injury or medical condition that makes it difficult to move your shoulder, your physician may recommend exercises or physical therapy to improve mobility. This is the same approach that would be prescribed for the early stages of frozen shoulder, as most physicians will begin with the most conservative course of treatment, as listed:

  • Physical Therapy: A physical therapist can help to stretch and strengthen the shoulder joint, which can improve mobility and reduce pain.
  • Medications: Over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen can help to manage pain associated with frozen shoulder.
  • Injections: Steroid injections into the shoulder joint can help to reduce inflammation and improve mobility.
  • Surgery: In severe cases, surgery may be necessary to release the tight capsule and improve shoulder mobility.

If you are experiencing shoulder pain – or if you’ve recently had surgery, an injury, or an illness that has immobilized your shoulder – consider a visit with a specialist at DOC Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine. Since 1972, our specialists have been committed to providing exceptional orthopaedic care through innovative techniques, quality services, patient communication, and education. With specialties ranging from general orthopaedics and physical therapy to sports medicine and more, the doctors at DOC Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine can provide local expert guidance to avoid injury, as well as any necessary care for any orthopaedic disorder or injury to help keep you feeling healthy and pain-free. Click here to schedule an appointment today.

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