Shoulder Stuck? Raise Your Hand (Or Not)

| Well Being

shoulder pain

Frozen shoulder, also known as "adhesive capsulitis," is a debilitating condition that affects about 2 percent of the U.S. population. It most commonly occurs in women ages 40 to 60, and can take up to three years to heal. Ladies, this affliction can be particularly painful and frustrating, so if you suspect that you may be a victim of frozen shoulder, we recommend you give your doctor a call!

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What is it? Frozen shoulder is characterized by stiffness and pain in the shoulder. Over time, the shoulder becomes resistant to motion because the shoulder capsule (the strong, connective tissue that surrounds and cushions the shoulder joint) thickens into a stiff, inflexible band. This band is commonly referred to as an adhesion, which inhibits the presence of essential fluid in the joint.

There are three stages that are typical of frozen shoulder:

  1. Freezing: Pain begins and grows, and the shoulder slowly loses range of motion. This phase can last anywhere from six weeks to nine months.
  2. Frozen: The pain may subside a little, but the stiffness and immobility remain. Daily activities often become difficult or impossible. This phase lasts between four to six months.
  3. Thawing: In the final stage, range of motion improves and shoulder strength returns. This can take six months to two years.

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doctor looking at xrays

What causes it? While the underlying causes of this condition are not fully understood, there are several potential factors that may contribute to the development of frozen shoulder. These include:

  • Diabetes: It is estimated that about 10 to 20 percent of diabetics will develop this affliction.
  • Other diseases: Conditions like hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, Parkinson's disease, cardiac disease, and stroke have been linked to frozen shoulder.
  • Immobilization: Recent surgeries, bone fractures or other injuries may contribute to the development of this condition.

How do you diagnose it? The primary way to diagnose frozen shoulder is to receive a physical examination from your doctor. If your doctor believes you are suffering from this condition, he or she will probably order up an X-ray or MRI to confirm the diagnosis.

How do you treat it? Although frozen shoulder will ultimately heal on its own, it can take up to three years for a full recovery. There are several treatment options, both non-surgical and surgical, that can speed up the healing process:

  • Anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen or Advil.
  • Steroid injections, delivered directly into the shoulder.
  • Physical therapy exercises to restore range of motion.
  • Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), where small pulses of electricity are delivered to the shoulder through electrodes.
  • Hot and cold compression packs to ward off pain and swelling.
  • Manipulation under anesthesia, where the doctor will force the shoulder to move in order to release tightness and restore range of motion.
  • Shoulder arthroscopy, where the doctor will cut through the tight parts of the joint capsule in the shoulder.

brooke griffin arm stretch

While this condition may have the potential to severely limit your daily activity and cause you serious pain, it is easily treatable. To learn more about frozen shoulder and the possible treatment options, check out our sources: American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, Medical News Today.