Frozen Shoulder: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment Options

Frozen shoulder (known as adhesive capsulitis) is a condition causing pain, stiffness, and limited range of motion in the shoulder joint. The condition typically develops gradually and can last from months to years.

That’s why it’s essential to understand the causes, symptoms, and treatment options for a frozen shoulder. First, the symptoms of a frozen shoulder can be quite debilitating and interfere with daily activities and quality of life. 

Second, the condition can result in long-term shoulder mobility and functionality limitations without proper treatment. This article will discuss a frozen shoulder’s causes, symptoms, and treatment options. So, let’s get started.

Causes of Frozen Shoulders

Although the exact frozen shoulder cause is not fully understood, several factors may contribute to its development. Some common risk factors for developing a frozen shoulder include

Age: Frozen shoulder is more common in people over 40, with the highest incidence occurring in people over 60.

Gender: Women are more likely to develop frozen shoulders than men.

Medical history: People with a history of a shoulder injury, surgery, or prolonged immobilization are at higher risk for developing a frozen shoulder.

Diabetes: Diabetes is commonly regarded as a risk factor for developing a frozen shoulder. People with diabetes are more likely to develop the condition.

Other underlying conditions causing a frozen shoulder include

Rotator cuff injury: A rotator cuff is a muscle and tendon group surrounding the shoulder joint. If the rotator cuff is injured, it can cause inflammation, resulting in a frozen shoulder.

Bursitis: Bursitis characterizes the inflammation of the bursa (a fluid-filled sac that cushions the shoulder joint). If left untreated, bursitis can lead to a frozen shoulder.

Tendinitis: Tendinitis is inflammation of the tendons in the shoulder that causes pain and stiffness, leading to a frozen shoulder.

Symptoms of Frozen Shoulder

The frozen shoulder symptoms can vary depending on the condition’s stage. There are three stages of a frozen shoulder, each with its symptoms. They are discussed below.

Freezing stage: The joint becomes increasingly painful and stiff, resulting in a limited range of motion. It usually lasts from 6 weeks to 9 months.

Frozen stage: The freezing stage is followed by the frozen stage, where the pain may decrease, but the stiffness in the shoulder remains. It can be difficult to move the shoulder, hindering performance in daily life activities. This stage usually lasts from 4 to 6 months.

Thawing stage: The range of motion in the shoulder gradually improves with reduced pain and stiffness. It lasts from 6 months to 2 years.

That said, let’s discuss the treatment options for frozen shoulder discussed in detail below.

Treatment Options for Frozen Shoulder

A frozen shoulder pain is excruciating and forces the individual to limit the shoulder’s range of motion. It is caused by the thickening and tightening of the shoulder joint capsule, which results in decreased synovial fluid in the joint.

Frozen shoulder treatment usually involves a combination of non-surgical options, surgical interventions, and alternative therapies. Let’s explore each of these treatment options in more detail.

Non-Surgical Options

  • Physical Therapy 

Physical therapy is one of the most effective non-surgical treatments for frozen shoulders. A physical therapist is responsible for designing a personalized exercise program for the patient, which includes stretching, strengthening, and range of motion exercises. They may also use heat or ice therapy, ultrasound, and other modalities to decrease inflammation and pain.

  • Medications

OTC pain relievers like acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or naproxen sodium can help relieve the pain and inflammation in a frozen shoulder. In some cases, corticosteroid injections are recommended to reduce inflammation and swelling.

That said, many surgical treatment options can help treat this condition. So, let’s discuss these in detail below.

Surgical Treatment Options for Froze

  • Arthroscopic Capsular Release

This minimally invasive procedure requires making small incisions in the shoulder and using a camera and surgical instruments to cut through the thickened joint capsule. It helps loosen up the shoulder joint to enhance the range of motion.

  • Manipulation Under Anesthesia

The patient is given general anesthesia while the surgeon moves the patient’s arm and shoulder joint to break up adhesions or scar tissue. The process is crucial to improve the range of motion.

Alternative Therapies and Home Remedies

Besides the surgical and non-surgical options, you can also opt for other alternative therapies or home remedies. These are discussed below:

Acupuncture: It involves inserting thin needles into specific points in the body to help relieve pain and inflammation. It may be useful for people with frozen shoulders.

Massage Therapy: The therapy may help improve blood flow to the affected area and reduce pain and inflammation.

Heat or Cold Therapy: Applying heat or cold to the shoulder may help reduce pain and inflammation.

Home Exercise Program: Performing specific exercises at home, as a physical therapist recommends, may help improve the shoulder’s range of motion and reduce pain.

Prevention of Frozen Shoulders

While preventing all cases of frozen shoulders may not be possible, some steps can help individuals reduce their risk of developing the condition. These include:

  • Staying Active

Regular exercise and physical activity can help maintain shoulder mobility and reduce the risk of developing a frozen shoulder. It’s essential to include exercises focusing on shoulder mobility and range of motion.

  • Maintaining a Good Posture

Poor posture can strain your shoulders, resulting in frozen shoulders. That’s why you must maintain a good posture throughout the day, especially when sitting for long periods.

  • Avoiding Repetitive Motions

Repeating the same shoulder movements can increase the risk of developing a frozen shoulder. You must take frequent breaks and switch up your activities if your job or activity requires repetitive shoulder motions.

  • Managing Underlying Conditions

Certain conditions (such as diabetes and thyroid disorders) can cause frozen shoulders. Managing these conditions through proper medical care can help reduce this risk.

  • Incorporating Stretching and Mobility Exercises

Regularly incorporating shoulder stretches and mobility exercises into your exercise routine can help maintain shoulder flexibility and range of motion.

Conclusion

People from various age groups and backgrounds frequently report shoulder pain and stiffness. If you’re experiencing these symptoms, seek a healthcare professional’s help and support to assess your condition and create a personalized treatment plan. 

It’s important to adopt good habits, such as maintaining good posture to develop good shoulder movement, avoiding activities straining your shoulder, and regularly engaging in exercises stretching and strengthening the shoulder muscles. Practicing these habits can help prevent future shoulder injuries.

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