What Is A Frozen Shoulder? 

Frozen shoulder is medically known as adhesive capsulitis. A frozen shoulder is typically characterized by stiffness and sharp pain in the shoulder. Frozen shoulder always begins gradually- the signs and symptoms appear in phases. They worsen over time and resolve within 1 to 3 years.

There are multiple reasons why you may develop a frozen shoulder- it may be because you are recovering from a surgery that is immobilizing your shoulder, or are recovering from medical conditioning. It is also seen in people recovering from a stroke or a mastectomy as it inhibits movements in their arms. 

The frozen shoulder treatment plan might take multiple routes- it may include a range of exercises, or through medical intervention by injecting corticosteroids, or numbing medication. However, the first course of treatment should always be seen from a long-term perspective- that is getting physiotherapy for shoulder pain.

It includes an array of range-of-motion exercises that help increase your strength and flexibility, relieve tension in the muscles and tendons that can help you with your pain without surgical intervention. However, surgical intervention in minor cases is seen where arthroscopic surgery may be suggested to help loosen the joint so that there is a better range of motion. 

What Are the Causes of a Frozen Shoulder?

Like we mentioned earlier, frozen shoulders have a number of reasons. It can be because of hormonal imbalances, diabetes, weight gain, or even genetic factors as one may be prone to joint inflammation. Frozen shoulders can be because of an injury, a prolonged illness, or surgery as it may be inhibiting movement in your shoulder that causes inflammation and adhesions. Sometimes, scar tissues also form in serious cases that may inhibit your day-to-day movement and affect your range of motion.

A frozen shoulder takes time to develop, sometimes two to 9 months. A capsule of connective tissues encasing the shoulder joints thickens and tightens and around the joint which causes the condition, we know as Frozen Shoulder. There are also some risk factors associated with a frozen shoulder that may increase your chances of developing one in the future- 

  • Age – Age is a strong risk factor. As we grow older, our bone density, ligaments, tendons, and muscles become looser and weaker which accelerates your chances of getting a frozen shoulder. People above the age of 40 and 50 are more likely to have frozen shoulders. 
  • Inhibited Movement – Frozen Shoulder also happens when you have reduced mobility in your shoulder joints. If you have had major surgery, then you may be at risk for developing this as reduced movement may cause the encasing around the shoulder to thicken and harden. Physiotherapy for Shoulder Pain is highly recommended at this point. 
  • Injuries – Rotator Cuff Injuries and a broken arm may be a reason behind your shoulder pain as this injury causes severe pain near the shoulder that may discourage your full range of motion. 
  • Diabetes and Weight Gain – Diabetes and weight gain may be a reason behind your frozen shoulder. As diabetes affects your whole body, your joints in the shoulder may also be affected causing inflammation that leads to shoulder pain.

Also Read: Top 10 Physiotherapy Exercises to Relieve Shoulder Pain

What Are The Symptopms of a Frozen Shoulder? 

Symptoms of frozen shoulder can be divided into different stages. Before you consider physiotherapy for the shoulder it is important to understand which stage you are in. As we mentioned earlier, a frozen shoulder takes time to develop and stays for a while. There are 3 stages of frozen shoulder which go through stages characterized by stiffness and pain. Frozen shoulders are also seen more in women than men between the ages of 40 to 60.  

To differentiate between a healthy shoulder and a  frozen shoulder consider this- your normal shoulder is held together with tendons and muscles called the shoulder capsule which is lubricated by the synovial fluid. However, when it comes to frozen shoulders, the capsule surrounding the tendons thickens and tightens and adhesions develop which leads to the reduction of synovial fluid- which contributes to the pain. 

Three Stages of a Frozen Shoulder Are:

  1. The Freezing Stage
    This is the stage where this ailment progresses. It is also the most uncomfortable and painful phase of the frozen shoulder. Although your range of motion may be only slightly restricted, the sharp pain causes significant intrusion in your daily life. This reduced range of motion may also be misdiagnosed as a rotator cuff injury. During the freezing stage, the shoulder capsule gradually gets more inflamed and shoulder movements like scratching your back or bending your arm may become more difficult. 
  1. Frozen Stage
    The frozen stage lasts anywhere from 4-6 months. This is the second phase of the frozen shoulder syndrome and the characteristic symptom of this stage is stiffness. This is the symptom that gives the distinction for this to be properly diagnosed by your doctor. During this time, the patient not only cannot move the shoulder but also has a reduction in total mobility in your entire arm. Although the sharp pain that characterized the freezing stage subdues, this stage comes with a set of challenges as well. Since your shoulder at this time is ‘frozen’- you are unable to move your shoulder and do your day-to-day tasks like washing your hair, or even reaching the seatbelt.
  2. Thawing Stage
    This stage lasts the longest- 6 months to 2 years. Although the capsule surrounding your shoulder joints has thickened over time, it gradually loosens to go back to its earlier form. This is where physiotherapy for shoulder pain is most needed. So stretching the shoulder capsule as much as you can, strengthening exercises for shoulder joint mobility, and posture correction are some of the exercises that are recommended by your assigned physiotherapist. PhytHealth is India’s first online physiotherapy services platform that uses 3D imaging and Artificial Intelligence to accurately capture your movements and decide on a treatment plan under the guidance of a staff of expert physiotherapists.

Phyt Health is a great platform to accelerate your journey towards healing in the thawing stage of the frozen shoulder. Your physical therapist will guide you to incorporate some exercises that include the stretching of the joint. Along with subsidiary treatment like ice and heat application, and other alternative therapies, your frozen shoulder can be eased into recovery using these techniques.