Frozen Shoulder: Symptoms and Treatment

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By Dr. Stefanie Yao
Published on July 19, 2013

Treatment for frozen shoulderSymptoms of Frozen Shoulder

Symptoms of frozen shoulder tends to differ depending on the three phases of the condition:

1. Freezing – this first phase is characterized by pain in which the shoulder typically becomes painful and stiff with most movements

2. Frozen – this second phase is characterized by marked loss of movement patients typically notice difficulty with elevating the arm or taking their hand behind their backs. Pain may decrease during this phase

3. Thawing – in this final phase the shoulder starts to ‘loosen’ up and movements with the shoulder gradually increase

Typically frozen shoulder is diagnosed with clinical signs and symptoms, the most noticeable movement patients have trouble with is that of rotation and elevation of the arm. Symptoms of frozen shoulder can develop gradually over time with patients noticing a dull ache that may increase to a sharper pain with certain movements or activities that places stress on the shoulder joint such as with arm elevation, lifting, carrying, pushing / pulling, lying on the affected shoulder and reaching your hand / arm behind your back and side i.e. putting on a bra or reaching for the car seatbelt. Frozen shoulder pain tends to be found deep into the shoulder with some people experiencing upper arm, upper back and neck issues.

As frozen shoulder progresses through its stages of the frozen and thawing phase shoulder range of motion gradually increases with a subsequent reduction in joint stiffness. For some people recovering from frozen shoulder, muscle wasting may occur to their affected arm due to lack of use of that arm / shoulder.

Typically frozen shoulder tends to affect one side but some develop the condition in both shoulders.

Frozen Shoulder Treatment Options:

Treatment for adhesive capsulitis can be frustrating and slow with each stage of frozen shoulder – Freezing, Frozen, Thawing – lasting an average of 6 to 8 months with some even taking 2 years to fully resolve. The goal of treatments is to decrease the inflammation and increase the range of motion of the shoulder. Your doctor may recommend anti-inflammatories as well as xrays and or MRI to rule out other causes of shoulder pain but x-rays are not typically able to diagnose frozen shoulder. MRI would provide a more accurate definitive diagnosis.

Manual and Physical therapy treatments can be beneficial to aid recovery and rehabilitation with the primary goal of reducing pain and interrupting the inflammation in the joint capsule. Treatments should be directed with getting the muscles to relax in order to help regain motion and function of the shoulder joint. This can be done with electrical modalities as well as joint mobilizations and soft tissue massage and home stretches and exercises.