Frozen Shoulder, known clinically as Adhesive Capsulitis, can be a particularly difficult condition to deal with from the standpoint of pain, and possible downtime from normal activities.
Whether you’re a professional or amateur athlete and live a very active and healthy lifestyle, or are not as active as you once were, no one likes to experience mobility issues in the joints, especially the shoulder.
While it’s not typically permanent, a person with frozen shoulder gradually loses their range of motion and, ultimately, the ability to move their shoulder.
It can take anywhere from one to three years for this condition to resolve and heal, though there are certain treatment approaches that are beneficial for easing painful symptoms and increasing range of motion.
What is Frozen Shoulder?
The shoulder joint is held together with tendons and ligaments. It is also encased in a capsule lubricated with synovial fluid, which allows the shoulder to rotate and move more easily.
Frozen shoulder occurs when the capsule that wraps around the joint grows thick and begins to progressively restrict a person’s ability to move their shoulder.
Frozen Shoulder Causes
Many of the root frozen shoulder causes are not entirely understood, though there are some risk factors that increase the chances a person may experience this condition. Wear and tear on the body that comes with age can often play a role.
Frozen shoulder is most common among people between the ages of 40 to 60, with women being more likely to experience this problem.
Other risk factors include prolonged immobility or limited mobility as a result of physical trauma. This can include issues like a rotator cuff injury or a broken arm. A stroke that limits arm and shoulder mobility can also be a factor, as well as a protracted recovery from surgery.
There are health related risk factors for frozen shoulder that include some of the following:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Parkinson’s disease
- Overactive or underactive thyroid syndrome
Frozen Shoulder Symptoms
As stated, this condition develops gradually and it’s in the initial stages that most people will experience moderate to severe pain.
The three primary symptomatic stages of frozen shoulder symptoms include the following:
1. Frozen Shoulder – Freezing
In the Freezing Stage of Frozen Shoulder, a person is losing range of motion in their shoulder and may experience pain with any type of movement in the effected shoulder.
Unfortunately, this stage of adhesive capsulitis can usually last anywhere from a few weeks up to nine months.
2. Frozen Shoulder – Frozen
Shoulder stiffness and severely limited range of motion is the hallmark of the Frozen Stage, though the pain associated with the first stage may actually be significantly diminished.
Typically, the frozen stage lasts several months and can make day-to-day activities difficult.
3. Frozen Shoulder – Thawing
The Thawing Stage of Frozen Shoulder can take anywhere from six months to several years to run its course, but shoulder strength and range of motion both gradually return, either fully, or close to normal.
Frozen Shoulder Treatment For Adhesive Capsulitis
Diagnosing frozen shoulder will include a physical examination to assess complete range of motion, as well as a discussion of symptoms.
Generally, physicians will order X-rays and MRI’s to rule out any other physical issues or injuries that might be inhibiting the shoulder joint.
After diagnosis, there are a range of frozen shoulder treatment approaches that can include:
1. Over the Counter Medications
Over-the-counter Nonsteroidal pain medications, like ibuprofen or naproxen, can help reduce pain and inflammation. For some people, this has been known to restore some range of motion.
2. Cortisone Injection
An injection directly into the shoulder with cortisone, a powerful steroid that can reduce inflammation, might be suggested to relieve some pain and improve range of motion.
Cortisone, however, is usually not long lasting and is not necessarily recommended for patients on the younger end of the spectrum, and can only be done on a limited basis.
3. EPAT Therapy For Frozen Shoulder
EPAT Therapy for Frozen Shoulder is a non-invasive treatment that delivers impulse pressure waves directly into the soft tissue of the shoulder.
This treatment method is sometimes called Extracorporeal Shock Wave Therapy (ESWT), and it is a popular therapy used by sports medicine doctors and professional sports teams for its effectiveness.
EPAT Treatment is a painless procedure that helps breakdown calcified fibrous tissue, improves circulation, reduces inflammation, and can speed up recovery from adhesive capsulitis.
It can also be particularly effective in combination with physical therapy. Because it is a non-surgical method, there is no scarring or risk of infection, and recovery time is reduced.
4. Physical Therapy
Physical Therapy involves a range of stretching and strength exercises that often help improve the shoulder’s range of motion.
After several physical therapy sessions, most people will learn how to warm up the shoulder before strength work and stretching. Many of these movements can be performed at home.
Arthroscopic Surgery is generally only suggested if no other forms of treatment are showing signs of improvement during the “frozen” stage.
For this type of surgery, surgeons cut through the thickened joint capsule in several places along the shoulder capsule. Though many patients have good outcomes with this procedure, there is always a risk with surgery that must be thoroughly discussed with your doctor.
Frozen shoulder symptoms can be quite common for people as they near retirement age, especially if they have suffered any other form of shoulder injury or a stroke. At the first signs of an issue, it’s important to speak with a doctor to begin using some of the treatments mentioned above.
While the stiffness and pain will usually go away on its own over time, adhesive capsulitis can take time for healing and recovery. Hopefully these treatment methods will speed up the process and some or all range of motion will return to normal more quickly.