Pain, stiffness, and the inability to freely move your arm are hallmarks of the condition commonly known as frozen shoulder.
Symptoms of frozen shoulder develop gradually and get progressively worse over time. For example, you may first notice shoulder pain with certain arm movements, and your range of motion may begin to decrease due to the pain. Within the next year, the frequency or intensity of the pain may subside as your shoulder becomes more stiff and even more difficult to move.
What Freezes When You Have Frozen Shoulder?
Your shoulder joint becomes unable to move when the capsule – a collection of connective tissue that surrounds the joint – thickens and tightens. This happens because the capsule becomes inflamed and scars (adhesions) develop in the folds of its tissue. For this reason, frozen shoulder is also called adhesive capsulitis of the shoulder. Why the capsule inflammation and scarring occurs in the first place is unknown.
Frozen Shoulder vs Other Shoulder Injuries
Frozen shoulder affects your ability to move your arm and shoulder. The joint essentially “freezes,” becoming stuck and prohibiting a full range of movement. However, restricted range of motion can also occur with other shoulder injuries, such as bursitis – impingement syndrome, rotator cuff tears, shoulder arthritis, and more.
The key to distinguishing frozen shoulder from other orthopedic conditions that affect the shoulder is whether active and passive movement is blocked. In cases of frozen shoulder, even passive movement – for example, when someone else tries to move your affected arm – becomes impossible.
Risk Factors for Frozen Shoulder
Immobility is the No. 1 risk factor for developing frozen shoulder. People who have had their arm or shoulder in a sling, brace, or otherwise immobile for a significant length of time have an increased risk of developing frozen shoulder.
Additional risk factors include:
- Any reason your arm may be immobilized for a period of time – such as following an injury (e.g., fracture, rotator cuff tear, stroke) or surgery (e.g., mastectomy, shoulder procedures).
- Being bed-bound.
- Being an adult between the ages of 40-60.
- Being a woman.
- Those with certain existing medical conditions like diabetes, heart disease, thyroid disorders, or Parkinson’s disease.
Treating Frozen Shoulder
Your doctor may order diagnostic imaging tests of your shoulder to rule out other possible causes of your symptoms.
The primary goals of treating frozen shoulder are to relieve your shoulder pain and increase your range of motion. While medication and corticosteroid shots may help with pain and inflammation, the most effective therapeutic approach by far is physical therapy.
Physical therapy for frozen shoulder will likely include stretching, massage, exercise, and other therapeutic approaches like ultrasound or electrical stimulation.
In rare cases, surgery may be necessary to treat a frozen shoulder. In these cases, it generally requires minimally invasive arthroscopic surgery<134> to loosen the capsule surrounding the shoulder joint, so the joint can move more freely.
Frozen shoulder tends to resolve within a year or two – and it doesn’t typically recur, at least not in the same shoulder.
Preventing Frozen Shoulder
If you are expecting to have surgery that will require you to keep your shoulder and arm immobile for any length of time, ask your doctor and physical therapist to recommend exercises you can perform that will help you retain motion in your shoulder joint, even during the recovery period.
Frozen Shoulder Treatment in Knoxville and Athens, TN
When it comes to frozen shoulder, you have options to relieve your shoulder pain and restore your range of motion. Call orthopedic shoulder specialist Dr. David Hovis at The Shoulder Institute at ORTHOKnox at (865) 251-3030.