Frozen Shoulder: What It Is and How to Treat ItDec 07, 2021
Written by JP Murcia, PT, DPT, CSCS
Frozen shoulder, also known as adhesive capsulitis, is a condition characterized by shoulder pain and a progressive loss of shoulder range of motion. People will often have difficulty reaching overhead, reaching behind their back, taking their clothes on and off, and more. There are two types of frozen shoulder: primary idiopathic (meaning the cause is unknown), and secondary where there is an association with things like diabetes, thyroid issues, stroke, trauma, surgery, fractures, and other shoulder conditions. It’s worth mentioning that frozen shoulder is most commonly seen in women ages 40-65 years old and in those with a history of frozen shoulder in the other arm.
While the exact mechanism of frozen shoulder is not well understood, the research suggests that it is an interplay between fibrosis (scarring) of the capsule, ligaments, and tendons surrounding the shoulder joint, inflammation of the shoulder, muscle guarding, and pain.
While this condition was once thought to always progress through a predictable timeline consisting of a freezing phase, frozen phase, and thawing phase, we now know that it’s not that straightforward and consistent. Frozen shoulders can often take between 6 months to 3 years to fully resolve, with the exact timelines being unpredictable and varying from person to person. That being said, specific and general exercise can help significantly improve someone’s pain and level of function. When being done on a consistent basis, people will usually notice that these exercises help them perform day to day activities with less difficulty.
Here are a few exercises that you can do at home if you have a frozen shoulder. Remember that limitations in your range of motion can be significantly affected by pain and muscle guarding. Knowing this, it’s important to start these exercises within a pain-free range and slowly progress over time. No need to crank through pain!
Additionally, there are a few other treatment options to help with frozen shoulders. Intra-articular corticosteroid injections have been found to significantly improve pain and function in the short-term, although these differences are not seen in the long-term when compared to those who did not receive an injection. It has also been noted that receiving these injections early on in the process can yield better results as opposed to receiving them months later.
The most important thing when it comes to treating frozen shoulder is a consistent home exercise program consisting of range of motion and strengthening exercises, as well as realistic expectations regarding the timeline of recovery. This can be a long, slow process, but with consistency, effort, and patience, your shoulder pain and function will eventually improve.
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