Frozen Shoulder

What is it/what happens to cause this issue?

Frozen shoulder affects a person’s ability to move the shoulder, usually only occurring on one side. The medical term for frozen shoulder is called adhesive capsulitis, and it describes the condition quite well. Adhesive refers to sticky and capsulitis is the inflammation of the joint capsule. It is thought that a lot of the symptoms are due to the lining of the joint capsule of the shoulder becoming very inflamed and sticking, ultimately forming scar tissue. This leaves much less room for the motility of the humerus bone in the arm, making the whole joint stiff and quite difficult to move. Many people think that this is the same as arthritis, however, no other joints are usually affected. Frozen shoulder can occur for no significant reason, or it can be the result of trauma, surgery, or illness.

There are three phases involved in the condition that the shoulder will go through. The first is a freezing phase where the joint tightens up, the second is the stiff phase in which the movement in the shoulder is significantly reduced, followed by the third is a thawing phase where the pain is slowly reduced and mobility is increased.

What does a typical treatment look like?

It is very important to get a doctor’s opinion if you think you may have this condition, as early treatment can help prevent severe stiffness from setting in.

Frozen shoulder is usually managed with physical therapy, and physiotherapy exercises which will aid in maintaining mobility and flexibility in the shoulder as best as possible. Another way to treat frozen shoulder is by taking oral steroids or anti-inflammatory medication prescribed by a doctor to reduce inflammation in the shoulder joint, This can also be done with steroid medication.

Surgery is used as a last resort if normal nonsurgical treatments have failed. This is usually done with an arthrescopic capsular release via keyhole surgery. This method divides the thickened shoulder capsule to release it. It is important that this surgery is followed by a rigorous rehabilitation program to ensure maximum mobility at the end of recovery.

Is there a recovery time before it’s gone or does it have lingering effects?

Most shoulders will recuperate on their own or with physiotherapy over a 1-3 year period, however it is quite a gradual recovery process. Patients who have not significantly improved with nonsurgical treatments have shown great results following arthroscopic surgery to release the tight capsule. Many patients report that they do the mobility exercises as best they can but ultimately the condition simply has to work its way through the three phases.

What are the consequences of not treating it?

It is important to see a doctor if you feel that you are experiencing any of these stiffening symptoms. Although it takes quite a bit of time to recover, most people are able to regain mobility of their shoulder. After treatment, be sure to allow the shoulder to rest for the recommended amount of time. Ignoring this could lead to irreversible damage in your shoulder, and ultimately lead to a disability.