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Frozen Shoulder

What is a Frozen Shoulder?

Frozen shoulder, also known as adhesive capsulitis, is a condition characterized by stiffness, pain, and limited range of motion in the shoulder. It typically develops after an injury or surgery to the shoulder and can last for several months or even years. The exact cause of frozen shoulder is not fully understood, but it is thought to be related to inflammation and scarring in the shoulder joint capsule, which leads to stiffness and restricted movement. Treatment options include physical therapy, medications, and in some cases, surgery.

What are the Symptoms of a Frozen Shoulder?

The symptoms of frozen shoulder typically develop gradually over time and can include:

  • Pain in the shoulder, which may be moderate to severe and can radiate down the arm
  • Stiffness in the shoulder, which can make it difficult to move the arm and perform everyday activities
  • Limited range of motion in the shoulder, which can make it difficult to reach overhead, behind the back, or across the body
  • Weakness in the shoulder
  • A grinding or popping sensation when moving the shoulder

Symptoms usually develop in three phases: the freezing phase, the frozen phase, and the thawing phase. The freezing phase, which can last 6 to 12 weeks, is characterized by increasing pain and stiffness. The frozen phase, which can last 4 to 12 months, is characterized by a decrease in pain but a continued lack of mobility. The thawing phase, which can last 6 to 24 months, is characterized by a gradual return of mobility.

It’s important to note that symptoms can vary from person to person, and not everyone will experience all of the symptoms. And it’s also important to seek medical attention if you suspect you have a frozen shoulder, as proper diagnosis and treatment can help improve your symptoms and prevent complications.

How do you Diagnose a Frozen Shoulder?

A frozen shoulder is typically diagnosed by a physical examination and a patient’s medical history. During the physical examination, the doctor will evaluate the patient’s range of motion, strength, and pain level in the shoulder. They may also perform a variety of tests to assess the patient’s ability to move the shoulder in different directions and to determine the cause of the symptoms.

Imaging tests such as X-ray, MRI, or ultrasound may also be used to help diagnose a frozen shoulder. These tests can help the doctor evaluate the condition of the bones, muscles, tendons, and other soft tissues in the shoulder and rule out other possible causes of the patient’s symptoms.

Based on the results of the physical examination and any imaging tests, the doctor can then make a diagnosis of frozen shoulder and recommend appropriate treatment options.

It’s important to note that frozen shoulder can be similar to other shoulder conditions such as rotator cuff injuries or arthritis, so a proper diagnosis is crucial in order to develop an effective treatment plan.

What is the Treatment for Frozen Shoulder

The best treatment for a frozen shoulder will depend on the individual case, but the main treatment options include:

  • Physical therapy: Physical therapy can help to improve range of motion and reduce pain in the shoulder. Exercises to improve range of motion, strength, and flexibility are often prescribed.
  • Medications: Medications such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and corticosteroids may be used to reduce pain and inflammation.
  • Heat and cold therapy: Applying heat or cold to the shoulder can help to reduce pain and muscle spasms.
  • Manipulation under anesthesia: A procedure done under general anesthesia, where the doctor manipulates the shoulder joint to improve range of motion.
  • Surgery: Surgery is usually reserved for cases of frozen shoulder that do not respond to other treatments.

It’s important to note that most cases of frozen shoulder improve with time and without any treatment, but for those who have severe pain or limited mobility, a combination of these treatments can be used to manage the condition. And it’s also important to work closely with your doctor or physical therapist to determine the most appropriate treatment plan for your individual case.

Benefits of Physical Therapy for Frozen Shoulder

Physical therapy can be an effective treatment option for frozen shoulder as it can help to:

  • Improve range of motion: Physical therapy exercises can help to increase flexibility and mobility in the shoulder joint, which can help to reduce stiffness and pain.
  • Reduce pain: Physical therapy can help to reduce pain by stretching tight muscles and tendons and by improving the strength of the surrounding muscles.
  • Improve strength: Physical therapy exercises can help to improve the strength of the shoulder muscles, which can help to support the shoulder joint and reduce the risk of further injury.
  • Improve function: Physical therapy can help to improve the patient’s ability to perform daily activities and return to normal function.
  • Prevent recurrence: Physical therapy can help to prevent recurrence by addressing underlying contributing factors, such as poor posture, muscle imbalances, or lack of muscle control.
  • Improve overall health: Physical therapy can help improve overall health by promoting the benefits of regular exercise and an active lifestyle.

Physical therapy sessions are usually done under the supervision of a licensed physical therapist and a treatment plan is tailored to each individual patient’s needs and goals.

Can Frozen Shoulder Come Back ?

Frozen Shoulder can recur, but it is not a common occurrence. The risk of recurrence is higher in patients who have had a previous frozen shoulder, patients who have diabetes, and patients who have had surgery or a traumatic injury to the shoulder.

However, it is important to note that frozen shoulder is a self-limiting condition, meaning that it will typically improve over time with or without treatment, although it may take a longer time.

To reduce the risk of recurrence, it is important to follow the physical therapy program recommended by the physical therapist, continue with home exercise program, maintain a healthy lifestyle, and seek medical attention if symptoms return.

It’s also important to address any underlying contributing factors, such as poor posture, muscle imbalances, or lack of muscle control, and to work with a physical therapist to improve overall shoulder function and prevent future injuries.

As challenging as Frozen Shoulder can be, a quality physical therapy program can significantly increase mobility, reduce discomfort, and improve your quality of life.

Our team at Athletic Physical Therapy is committed to ensuring each client we see attains the highest level of function possible. Contact us today to learn how our proprietary program, the ARC Progression, can improve symptoms of Frozen Shoulder and help you live a better life.