Frozen Shoulder

A Frozen Shoulder is an extremely common complaint with many causes. It is important to accurately diagnose a frozen shoulder so you can get appropriate treatment. Frozen shoulder is also known as adhesive capsulitis or shoulder contracture.

Frozen shoulder is caused when the flexible tissue that surrounds the shoulder joint, known as the capsule, becomes inflamed and thickened.

It is not fully understood why this happens, although there are a number of things that make developing a frozen shoulder more likely. These include having:

  • Shoulder injury or shoulder surgery
  • Diabetes
  • Dupuytren’s contracture – a condition where small lumps of thickened tissue form in the hands and fingers
  • Hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Cardiovascular disease

Frozen shoulder is estimated to affect two in 10 people with diabetes at some point in their life.

You’re more likely to get frozen shoulder if you’re aged between 40 and 60. It’s also more common among women than men.

Stages of a Frozen Shoulder

There are three stages of frozen shoulder.

  • Freezing. During this stage you will slowly develop pain that gets worse as you lose motion in your shoulder. This stage can last between six weeks and nine months.
  • Frozen. The pain may have settled during this stage but your shoulder will remain stiff. This can last between four and six months.
  • Thawing. During this final recovery stage you will begin to get movement back in your shoulder. This stage can last between six months and two years.

Symptoms of Frozen Shoulder

  • Shoulder pain; usually a dull, aching pain
  • Limited movement of the shoulder
  • Difficulty with activities such as brushing hair, putting on shirts/bras
  • Pain when trying to sleep on the affected shoulder

Most often, a frozen shoulder can be diagnosed on examination, and no special tests are needed.  An x-ray can be obtained to ensure the shoulder joint appears normal, and there is not evidence of traumatic injury or arthritic changes to the joint.  An MRI is sometimes performed if the diagnosis is in question, but this test is better at looking for other problems, rather than looking for frozen shoulder.

Frozen shoulder treatment primarily consists of pain relief and physical therapy. Most patients find relief with these simple steps, although the entire treatment process can take several months or longer. The importance of stretching, exercises and chiropractor treatment cannot be overemphasized as these are the key to successful frozen shoulder treatment.