Have you ever experienced stiffness? What about stiffness in your shoulder area, that makes it hard to move your arm, lay on your side, or to extend your body? This might be a case of frozen shoulder, but what is frozen shoulder? Here’s everything you need to know about this condition, its symptoms, treatment options, recovery and more.
What is Frozen Shoulder?
Frozen shoulder (or adhesive capsulitis) is a condition in which a person’s shoulder is very stiff, causing immense pain and discomfort. Typically, symptoms of frozen shoulder begin slowly and reveal themselves over time as they get worse and worse. it can be disabling, and sometimes even severely painful. While it might seem common to have a stiff and uncomfortable shoulder, it is a specific condition that requires distinct treatment.
What causes Frozen Shoulder?
To understand how frozen shoulder is caused, you need to understand how the ligaments and tendons in the shoulder work. The tendons and ligaments in the shoulder joint are encased in a capsule of connective tissue. When this capsule tightens around the shoulder joint and thickens, frozen shoulder occurs, and the movement is restricted. While it’s unsure exactly why this happens, it is often more common in those with diabetes or those who might have had to immobilize their shoulder recently, which might have been caused by surgery or arm injury.
As mentioned before, frozen shoulder comes in stages and doesn’t happen all at once. Usually presenting in three stages: the freezing, stage, and then the thawing stage. Much like their names suggest, the three stages coincide with the severity of the pain and immobility.
- The Freezing Stage: In this stage, your mobility begins to decrease, and pain begins slowly. This stage is just the beginning, in which movement is extremely limited, but not as much as the frozen stage, which is next.
- The Frozen Stage: While the pain starts to diminish, the motion in the shoulder does as well. While this stage isn’t as painful as the freezing stage is, it’s often the stage in which your shoulder can’t be moved at all. Obviously, you can’t go on this way. This is the stage in which professional help is often sought out (although we’d recommend sooner).
- Thawing Stage: Once professional help has been enlisted and your treatment has begun, the thawing stage can begin. The thawing stage is all about the range of motion being restored to the arm and the pain being eliminated completely.
Before we talk about treatment, there are some risk factors that may make this condition more likely for you.
- Age and sex: If you are female and over the age of 40, this condition is more likely to occur.
- Reduced mobility/Prolonged immobility: Like we discussed earlier if you have had reduced mobility or prolonged immobility, your risk of developing this condition is more likely. This reduced mobility or prolonged immobility might be from a broken arm, a stroke, recovery from surgery, or even rotator cuff injury.
- Diabetes: High blood sugar can lead to a lot of issues. When sugar connects to the collagen that keeps your joints together, it gets sticky. This causes your movement to become limited.
- Overactive/underactive thyroid: It’s also true that having thyroid disease, whether it’s overactive or underactive, can make it more likely for you to develop the condition.
- Cardiovascular disease: While it is true that cardiovascular disease can lead to Frozen Shoulder, it has been found that shoulder pain has been linked to heart disease risk as well.
- Tuberculosis: Tuberculosis, particularly pulmonary tuberculosis, can lead to shoulder pain and eventually present with the condition.
- Parkinson’s disease: Parkinson’s is caused by a lack of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a chemical that helps you have coordinated and smooth muscle movements.
Frozen Shoulder can be prevented sometimes, especially when it is caused by immobility. If this is the case and you have had reduced mobility because of an injury or surgery, you might want to consider asking your doctor how your arm can be moved during this time. Oftentimes, your doctor can help you come up with exercises so you can keep your range of motion post-injury.
If your shoulder has been causing pain or has been hard to move, you should reach out to your doctor immediately. If your doctor prefers you get specialty care, you should reach out to an orthopedic doctor. Frozen shoulder is usually diagnosed based on medical history and a physical examination. This physical examination often starts with your doctor asking you to move in certain ways so they can observe your range of motion.
When it comes to diagnosing Frozen Shoulder, it can easily be mistaken for rotator cuff tear or other shoulder problems, so it is important for your doctor to take time to diagnose you properly. This means your examination may include magnetic resonance imaging (MRIs) or X-rays, so your doctor can rule out other potential causes or conditions.
To begin treatment, your doctor will probably recommend range of motion exercises. If this doesn’t help, corticosteroids and numbing medications can be injected into the joint and Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may be recommended to relieve the pain. While it is unlikely, sometimes surgery is a treatment option so the joint can move easier.
If you feel like you might be experiencing Frozen Shoulder and need help with diagnosis and treatment, Integrated Orthopedics offers treatment for this and other joint issues with its board-certified orthopedic doctors.