FEATURE — A frozen shoulder may sound like something you would pull out of the deep freeze and thaw for dinner. But believe me, if you’ve ever had the medical condition of frozen shoulder – or in doctor speak, Adhesive Capsulitis – you know it is no picnic.
A frozen shoulder is the stiffening of the shoulder due to scar tissue, which results in painful movement and loss of motion. The hallmark sign of this condition is being unable to move your shoulder – either on your own or with the help of someone else.
It occurs in about 3 percent of the general population, most commonly affecting people between the ages of 40 and 60 and occuring in women more often than men.
The actual cause of frozen shoulder is not fully understood. Sometimes it just happens for no apparent reason; other times it comes on after surgery or injury to your arm. There are a few factors that increase your risk for developing it. These include diabetes, hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, Parkinson’s disease and cardiac disease.
Also, frozen shoulder can develop after a shoulder has been immobilized for a period of time due to surgery, a fracture or other injury. To prevent this problem, doctors often prescribe movement exercises and physical therapy right after surgery.
The progression of frozen shoulder usually follows a predictable pattern of three stages: freezing, frozen and thawing.
In the “freezing” stage you slowly have more and more pain. As the pain worsens, your shoulder loses its motion. Your shoulder may ache all the time but is worse with movement and at night. Freezing typically lasts from six weeks to nine months.
In the “frozen” stage your pain slowly improves, but your shoulder remains stiff. Activities such as reaching overhead, putting on your seat belt and reaching into your back pocket are difficult if not impossible to perform. This stage generally lasts four to six months.
During the “thawing” stage shoulder motion slowly improves with less pain. Complete return to normal or close-to-normal strength and motion typically takes from six months to two years.
Having a frozen shoulder can be a difficult, trying problem, but there is help available. A visit to your primary care provider or orthopedic surgeon is often a good place to start. Treatment options for pain include anti-inflammatory medication, steroid injections and physical therapy.
Doctors often prescribe physical therapy to their patients with a frozen shoulder diagnosis. Physical therapy treatments may include ice and heat packs, manual therapy techniques and gentle but progressive stretching and strengthening exercises.
The goals of these physical therapy treatments are to decrease pain, prevent excessive muscle and function loss and get your shoulder back to full function as quickly as possible.
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Written by Darren Marchant.
Darren Marchant is a licensed physical therapist and CEO and founder of Fit Physical Therapy with clinics in St. George and in Mesquite and Overton, Nevada. He is board certified as an orthopedic clinical specialist. For other helpful articles or clinic information visit fit-pt.com.