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  • Writer's picturezelechowski mathieu

What is frozen shoulder and how to treat it

Updated: Jun 3, 2023


a physiotherapist osteopath from courchevel assessing shoulder mobility

Frozen shoulder, also known as adhesive capsulitis, is a painful condition that affects the shoulder joint. It is characterized by stiffness, limited range of motion, and pain in the shoulder joint. Frozen shoulder can occur in anyone, but it is most common in people over the age of 40 and women are more prone to develop it. The condition typically develops slowly, often over the course of several months or years, and can be divided into three stages: freezing, frozen, and thawing.

The freezing stage of frozen shoulder is marked by pain and increasing stiffness in the shoulder joint. The pain is usually dull and aching, and it may be more pronounced at night or during periods of rest. As the shoulder becomes increasingly stiff, it becomes more difficult to move the arm in any direction, and simple tasks like reaching behind the back or over the head become painful and nearly impossible.

During the frozen stage of frozen shoulder, the pain may decrease, but the stiffness and limited range of motion become more pronounced. The shoulder joint may feel stuck, and attempts to move the arm may be met with resistance or pain. This stage can last for several months to a year or more.

The final stage of frozen shoulder is the thawing stage. During this stage, the stiffness in the shoulder joint gradually begins to subside, and range of motion returns. The pain associated with the condition also tends to decrease. This stage can last several months to a year or more, and it is often marked by gradual improvement.

The exact cause of frozen shoulder is not known, but it is thought to be related to inflammation and thickening of the capsule that surrounds the shoulder joint. Other risk factors for developing frozen shoulder include diabetes, thyroid disorders, and injury or surgery to the shoulder.

Diagnosing frozen shoulder typically involves a physical examination and imaging tests, such as an X-ray or MRI. Treatment for the condition may include a combination of pain medication, physical therapy, and in severe cases, surgery.

Pain medication may be prescribed to manage the pain associated with frozen shoulder. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen or naproxen may be used to reduce inflammation and relieve pain. In some cases, corticosteroid injections may be given directly into the shoulder joint to reduce inflammation.

Physical therapy is an important component of treatment for frozen shoulder. A physical therapist can teach exercises to help improve range of motion and reduce stiffness in the shoulder joint. These exercises may include gentle stretches, range of motion exercises, and strengthening exercises.

In severe cases of frozen shoulder, surgery may be necessary. Surgery is typically only considered after other treatment options have been exhausted. The type of surgery used to treat frozen shoulder depends on the severity of the condition. Arthroscopic surgery may be used to remove scar tissue and adhesions that are contributing to the stiffness and limited range of motion. In more severe cases, a shoulder joint replacement may be necessary.

Preventing frozen shoulder can be difficult, but there are steps that can be taken to reduce the risk of developing the condition. Maintaining good posture and engaging in regular exercise can help keep the shoulder joint flexible and healthy. People who are at risk for developing frozen shoulder, such as those with diabetes or thyroid disorders, should be monitored closely and treated promptly if symptoms develop.


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