What is a Frozen Shoulder and How Can I Treat It?

what is a frozen shoulder

Photo by Adrian “Rosco” Stef on Unsplash

Many of our patients come in complaining about shoulder pain or stiffness. And while there are many different reasons for such symptoms, one of the most common causes for a sore and ‘tight’ shoulder is adhesive capsulitis (more commonly known as a frozen shoulder).

In order to diagnose our patients, we need to assess their medical history and test their range of motion. Typically, patients with limited range of motion, who are female and are 40 years or older, are more likely to have a frozen shoulder (although men are not excluded from this condition). We also see patients with diabetes or those who have had shoulder surgery being diagnosed with adhesive capsulitis, as these are factors which put one at risk.

What is a frozen shoulder then? Let’s start by emphatically stating what a frozen shoulder is not: It’s not a cold or tingling feeling in your shoulder! The word ‘frozen’ is used to describe the three stages of this condition, which are the freezing stage, the frozen stage, and the thawing stage (but we’ll get to that later).

Let’s begin with the shoulder composition: The shoulder is made up of three main components. These being the clavicle, the shoulder blade and the humerus (the upper arm bone). The top of the humerus is covered with smooth tissue, which forms the shoulder capsule, connecting with the shoulder blade and clavicle. This capsule is the root of your pain – when it gets inflamed, it becomes thick and stiff, reducing your ability to freely move your shoulder around.

what is a frozen shoulder

Image: www.orthoinfo.aaos.org

The reason for this inflammation is, unfortunately, not well understood, but as orthopaedics, we often see it in patients that have undergone long periods of immobility (for example, stroke patients or patients who have recovered from a shoulder injury). A dull and aching pain is characteristic of this condition, which often worsens progressively.

Patients first experience ‘freezing’, where their pain gradually becomes worse, and they lose their normal range of motion for around 6 weeks to 9 months. They then experience the ‘frozen’ stage, where their pain diminishes or completely goes away but they still experience a very tight and stiff shoulder. Lastly, they go through ‘thawing’, where they slowly regain their range of motion and recover. This last period can take anywhere from half a year to two years!

On the positive side, patients often recover from this naturally, but during its early to mid-stages, it can become a hinderance to the daily activities enjoyed by most. For patients that experience this condition intensely, there are options to relieve their pain and stiffness.

How Can a Frozen Shoulder Be Treated?

We highly recommend non-surgical treatment options for adhesive capsulitis. These include anti-inflammatory medications, cortisone injections (injected into shoulder joint), hydrodilatation (injecting sterile fluid into the shoulder joint), and arthroscopy (making small incisions to access the capsule, cut it, and release it).

If you are finding that your frozen shoulder pain or stiffness is diminishing your quality of life and is getting in the way of what’s important to you, then we can advise you on the best treatment option/s for you. Book a consult with Dr Baba for professional and attentive assistance and begin your journey towards greater mobility!



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