Frozen shoulder is a common condition that causes pain and stiffness in the shoulder. This condition is also known as adhesive capsulitis. As this condition progresses the shoulder can become very hard to move. The symptoms can get worse and then eventually ease. It can take anywhere between a year or 3 for the shoulder to heal.
Frozen shoulder commonly affects people between the age of 40 to 60. It occurs more often in women than men. In this article, we will discuss in depth about frozen shoulders and how to treat it.
What is a frozen shoulder?
Frozen shoulder is a condition that causes pain, loss of normal range of movement and stiffness in the shoulder. This condition can gradually get worse if not taken care of.
If you have a frozen shoulder you go through these three stages:
In the first stage you experience a pain in your shoulder with any movement. This pain can get worse and can hurt more during the night. The movement of your shoulder is limited. This can last between 6 to 9 months.
In this stage your pain may subside, but the stiffness gets worse. Moving your shoulder will be very difficult and normal activities will be hard to perform. This stage can last between 4 to 12 months.
In the thawing stage, shoulder motion gradually starts to improve. It can take about 6 to 12 months for your shoulder to go back to normal.
Anatomy of a frozen shoulder
A shoulder is made up of three bones that form a ball-and-socket joint. These bones are the upper arm or humerus, shoulder blade or scapula, and collarbone or clavicle. A tissue also surrounds the shoulder joint which holds everything together. This tissue is called the shoulder capsule.
In a frozen shoulder this capsule becomes thick and tight, making it hard to move. Scar tissue can form and the synovial fluid which keep the joint lubricated lessens. This can limit the range of motion even further.
The main symptoms of a frozen shoulder include pain and stiffness that make it difficult for you to move your shoulder. You may feel a dull or achy pain in one of your shoulders. You may also experience pain in the upper arm. This pain can get worse during the night, making it difficult for you to sleep.
The causes of a frozen shoulder are not clearly defined. A few factors can put people at the risk of developing a frozen shoulder. Conditions like diabetes can put the patient at a risk of developing a frozen shoulder. Other diseases like hypothyroidism, Parkinson’s disease and heart disease can cause a frozen shoulder.
Moreover, a shoulder that has been immobilized due to surgery, fracture or other injury can lead to a frozen shoulder.
Your doctor can perform a physical exam to diagnose a frozen shoulder. They will ask you to move your shoulder on your own, then they will move it for you to compare. The doctor will note how far your shoulder moves. A physical exam is sufficient to diagnose a frozen shoulder. However, the doctor can also ask you to do an X-ray, ultrasound, or MRI to rule out other conditions like arthritis.
If you are experiencing any symptoms of a frozen shoulder, then it is best to consult your doctor for a proper diagnosis.
To treat frozen shoulder pain, over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication like aspirin or ibuprofen can help. If you experience extreme pain, then the doctor may prescribe stronger medication.
If your symptoms are intense or do not improve over time, then your doctor can recommend the following treatments:
A corticosteroid injection in your shoulder joint to reduce pain and improve mobility.
In this treatment the doctor will inject sterile water into your shoulder capsule to help stretch it. This can help improve shoulder movement.
Physiotherapy can help during certain stages of a frozen shoulder. Physiotherapists can help patients perform exercises to improve mobility without straining the shoulder or causing pain.
The shoulder is gently moved while the patient is under anesthetic. This method is very rarely used now as arthroscopic surgery has replaced it. Moreover, with this method there is a risk of further complications like fracture.
Surgery is rarely necessary to treat a frozen shoulder.. The doctor may recommend this only if other treatments have not worked. This will be an arthroscopic surgery, which means it is performed with light, pencil sized tools that are inserted through tiny cuts in the shoulder.
A freeze is preventable only in cases where it is caused due to injury. If you experience such an injury, then it is best to ask your doctor about exercises that can help maintain mobility of the shoulder joint.
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