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Symptoms, Causes & Treatment for Frozen Shoulder

Posted Oct 30th, 2022

Symptoms, Causes & Treatment for Frozen Shoulder

People who suffer from frozen shoulder experience pain and stiffness in their shoulder joint. Here, our Stittsville physiotherapists describe how this condition can be treated with physiotherapy. 

What is frozen shoulder?

Frozen shoulder is also known as adhesive capsulitis. Symptoms of this self-limiting condition occur progressively, and primary signs include pain and stiffness accompanied by a significantly reduced range of motion. 

While we do not fully understand how or why frozen shoulder occurs yet, the symptoms are thought to develop due to progressive inflammation and thickening of the joint capsule in the shoulder. 

If you've had to keep your shoulder still for long periods (for example, after fracturing an arm or undergoing a surgical procedure), you'll be at increased risk for developing this condition. Certain populations, including those with diabetes mellitus, are also at higher risk. 

The symptoms typically come on gradually and worsen. Consistent treatment may help to alleviate symptoms within 1 to 3 years. Therapy may include range-of-motion exercises, medications and, in rare circumstances, surgery. 

A qualified health professional such as a physiotherapist can play an integral role in treating frozen shoulder, and helping you manage and recover from your symptoms. Our team can also offer valuable education, tips and advice to aid your recovery. 

Signs & Symptoms of Frozen Shoulder

Frozen shoulder typically occurs gradually, in three stages. For some people, the pain is worse at night and may disrupt sleep. 

Freezing

Your ability to move your shoulder becomes limited, and you experience pain when you are able to move it. This stage may last from 2 to 9 months. 

Frozen

While pain may lessen, using your shoulder will likely grow more difficult as stiffness sets in. This stage can last from 4 to 12 months. 

Thawing

Your ability to move your shoulder may start to improve. This stage may last from 5 to 24 months. 

Frozen Shoulder Diagnosis & Treatment

Diagnosis

During a physical exam, your doctor or healthcare provider may ask you to move your arm in certain ways to assess your range of motion and to check for pain. 

You may also be asked to relax your muscles while the doctor moves your arm (passive range of motion), since frozen shoulder impacts both active and passive range of motion. 

Though this condition can usually be diagnosed from signs and symptoms alone, imaging tests such as X-rays, MRI or ultrasounds can rule out other issues.

Treatment

Most methods for treating frozen shoulder involve managing shoulder pain and preserving as much range of motion in the shoulder as possible. This may take a combinations of medications, therapy and surgery or other procedures. 

While frozen shoulder can be treated with physiotherapy, you'll likely need to attend sessions for 12 to 18 months (note that some people still have symptoms up to 3 years later). 

Treatment may include a combination of education, managing symptoms, monitoring the disease, manual therapy and exercise therapy. 

How can physiotherapy help with shoulder pain?

Physiotherapy for shoulder pain may involve acupuncture and dry needling treatments. During these procedures, one of the trained physiotherapists at our Nepean physiotherapy clinic inserts small, sterile, fine needles through the skin into a specific area of the body. 

Acupuncture has been scientifically known to encourage natural healing, reduce or relieve pain and improve functioning in people with acute or chronic conditions or injuries. 

Dry needling causes the muscle to contract and relax. This releases trigger points in the muscles, increasing flexibility and decreasing pain. 

Our physiotherapists can develop a treatment plan to help reduce pain and improve functioning if you are suffering from symptoms of frozen shoulder.

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