Frozen shoulder is often described as shoulder stiffness and pain. But there’s much more to frozen shoulder symptoms than you think.
Whether you want to know exactly what this condition is or how it’s cured, you’ll find the answers to those questions and many more in this article.
So, read on and we’ll tell you everything you need to know about frozen shoulder.
What is Frozen Shoulder?
Just as the name implies, frozen shoulder affects your shoulder joint. It’s first noticed from pain and stiffness in the area that continuously worsens with time.
To fully understand what’s happening in your body when you have frozen shoulder, you have to know a bit more about the shoulder’s working parts. There are three bones in your shoulder that make up the ball and socket joint.
The parts are:
- Your upper arm, known as the humerus
- Your collarbone, called the clavicle
- Your shoulder blade, which is the scapula
With all these parts, there are tissues that surround your shoulder joint. These tissues are called the shoulder capsule. Their job is to keep all the other working parts together.
When a person has frozen shoulder, the capsule has become too thick and tight, so it decreases mobility. During this time, there is also a ton of scar tissue forming in the area. This decreases the amount of synovial fluid, a liquid that works to lubricate the joint.
This occurrence, of course, puts even more limitations on your range of motion.
Where Does This Condition Come From?
Although frozen shoulder is pretty common, there isn’t a single known cause for the condition. But, there are some groups who are more at risk. For instance, frozen shoulder is more common in women than it is in men. In fact, 70% of women end up with it.
Here are some other risk factors and causes for froze shoulder:
Frozen should is most common in people of both genders who are at least 40 years old.
Frozen shoulder is common among the diabetic community. And when diabetics end up developing it, the pain is often more intense.
At this time, the link between diabetes and frozen shoulder is unknown.
Recent Injuries or Trauma
If you have surgery in the arm or shoulder area or suffer from an arm fracture, your chances of getting frozen shoulder are increased. It often occurs during a patient’s recovery.
There are some other medical problems that are linked to frozen shoulder. They include:
- Parkinson’s disease
- Thyroid disease: Both hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism
- Heart disease
If you have any of the conditions mentioned, letting your doctor know can help during the diagnostic process.
Frozen Shoulder Symptoms
The symptoms that accompany frozen shoulder go beyond a bit of shoulder pain. It’s a bit more specific and targeted.
If you think you might have the condition, these are some signs you should look out for:
One of the most common symptoms of frozen shoulder is stiffness in the shoulder and arm area. Depending on the person, it may become impossible to move it.
One Affected Shoulder
Frozen shoulder often impacts just one of your shoulders. You may even feel the pain in the shoulder muscles that surround the top of your arm.
The pain from frozen shoulder often presents itself throughout the day, but it worsens at night. This, of course, can make it difficult to sleep or even find a comfortable sleeping position.
The Stages of Frozen Shoulder
Frozen shoulder symptoms are often categorised into three stages. In most patients, the pain gradually worsens over a two to three year period.
The first stage of frozen shoulder is known as the freezing stage. This is where the pain will first present itself and gradually worsen.
You may feel that it is becoming difficult for you to move your shoulder during this stage. Freezing can last between six weeks and nine months.
The second stage is referred to as the frozen stage. The pain doesn’t worsen. You may feel it either decrease or stay the same.
You may even become used to it at this point. Still, the shoulder will remain stiff. This stage lasts between four and six months.
The thawing stage is where you will begin to experience normalcy again. It’s going to become easier to move around; a sign that you are healing.
The pain will fade and return at times. You can spend between six months and two years here.
Diagnosing Frozen Shoulder
When you complain to your doctor after experiencing shoulder pain and other frozen shoulder symptoms, they’ll often start the diagnostic process by giving you a physical exam. This will help them understand how much pain you’re having and whether your mobility has been impacted.
This will be accomplished through an active exam where the doctor has you move your shoulder on your own. Then there is a passive portion where the doctor will move the shoulder for you and track the differences between both portions.
Also, don’t be surprised if the doctor decides to inject an anaesthetic into your shoulder. Anaesthetic is a medication that numbs the pain. The numbing helps doctors get a clearer idea of your ranges of motion during active and passive exams.
If your doctor feels the need to run more tests after an initial physical exam, they can use ultrasound, MRI, or x-rays to determine your diagnosis. These tests help rule out other conditions with similar symptoms like arthritis or a torn rotator cuff.
Although the diagnostic process can take some time, it’s a necessary step to obtaining proper treatment. After all, an incorrect diagnosis can lead to even more pain and suffering.
Living with Frozen Shoulder
When you’re diagnosed with frozen shoulder, some aspects of your day to day life are going to change and your risks for other conditions are also increased. Here are some facts you should know about living with frozen shoulder:
Neck Pain is a Normal Occurrence
When you have frozen shoulder, it’s normal for you to alter some of your regular movements to avoid some of the shoulder pain. For example, if you change the position you sleep in or move your body differently when you wash your hair or put on clothes, you can end up straining your neck over time.
As a result, your neck might become stiff and painful along with the affected shoulder. If you notice this beginning to happen, stretching and massage can decrease some of the tension.
You Shouldn’t Avoid Using the Hurt Arm or Shoulder
Usually, when we hurt ourselves, we think the best thing to do is to rest the affected area of our bodies. In a lot of situations, this is exactly right, but not with frozen shoulder.
Resting the arm or shoulder doesn’t help with healing. Resting is can make the condition worse, as it allows even more scar tissue to grow around the capsule.
More so, using your hurt shoulder can help you maintain your muscular strength in the area, which can prevent future problems and delayed healing. So, use your frozen shoulder as often as you normally would during your daily activities.
You May Not Fully Heal
While some people do regain 100% of their range of motion after frozen shoulder treatment, not everyone enjoys the same outcome. Even if your affected shoulder feels and moves better than it had before, you may still notice that it sits a little high than the other when you raise or arms or that you still feel pain doing certain movements.
When this is a concern, additional treatments and physiotherapy often help.
You Might Get Tendinitis
Sometimes people with frozen shoulder will notice that their affected arm looks a little shorter than the other. This is because the tendons in your arms are often stressed as a result of trying to compensate for having frozen shoulder.
This is where the tendinitis comes from. If you end up with this condition as well, it can be assisted through physiotherapy, which often includes some light stretching.
What are Your Options for Treatment?
There are quite a few treatment options out there for frozen shoulder. It is often found that a combination of treatments help quicken the healing process and also increase the chances of a full recovery.
Additionally, the treatments you are prescribed can change depending on the intensity of your symptoms. Here are some examples of treatments you may receive with frozen shoulder:
Over the Counter NSAIDs
Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen and aspirin can help decrease some of the pain and inflammation you’re feeling in your shoulder area.
If they don’t help over time, your doctor can prescribe a stronger painkiller.
It’s very rare that a person with frozen shoulder will need to have surgery. But it’s worth mentioning since it can happen.
If no other treatment has helped with your pain or mobility, you may end up having to undergo an arthroscopic procedure. This is a treatment done with small, pencil-like tools that enter through small cuts in the shoulder.
Your GP may offer you a steroid joint injection. The purpose of the injection is to ease your pain and make physiotherapy more comfortable.
Seeing a chiropractor is one of the most effective ways of managing and healing from frozen shoulder. Although many people see their GP for the initial pain and diagnosis, many chiropractors have the diagnostic equipment, like x-rays, needed to assess your condition.
Chiropractic care can also increase the speed of your recovery. A common treatment chiropractors use in frozen shoulder cases is the Niel Asher Technique.
During this treatment, your chiropractor uses pressure and stretching to manipulate the joints and muscle tissues. Patients often feel a significant change after the first treatment, but continued visits are advisable.
Shoulder manipulation isn’t practised as much as it once was for frozen shoulder. This is because it got replaced by arthroscopic surgery.
During a shoulder manipulation, a surgeon will use force to move the shoulder while the patient is under general anaesthesia. One of the reasons this isn’t practised much anymore is that the chances of fractures and other complications are much greater.
Physiotherapy for frozen shoulder often includes a variety of stretches and exercises. A physiotherapy program is designed to reduce pain while increasing range of motion, challenging the muscles, and improving shoulder strength.
Curing Frozen Shoulder
Simply put, there isn’t a straightforward cure for frozen shoulder. Patients with this condition come from all walks of life and can have other illnesses that brought the condition on.
But, the phase you’re in when you seek treatment can have a significant impact on how well you heal. It also impacts how long it takes for you to heal. As with many illnesses, people suffering from frozen shoulder have better chances of making full recoveries if it’s diagnosed and treated early on.
So, make sure to always contact your GP or physiotherapist if you begin to feel symptoms like pain and stiffness in your shoulder area. Doing so is especially important if you fall into one of the higher risk categories we mentioned before like being in your 40’s, having diabetes, or living with Parkinson’s Disease.
Have You Sought Treatment Yet?
Frozen shoulder symptoms can mimic some other injuries and problems. So, if you think you have this condition, it’s important to get a proper diagnosis before you begin to seek treatment options.
Don’t know where to start? That’s what we’re here for! Contact us and we can help with both the diagnostic and treatment processes.