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Brrr… A Cold Case of Frozen Shoulder

Frozen shoulder, also known as adhesive capsulitis, is a common shoulder injury that often affects people aged 40 to 60 and is more common in women. It occurs when the shoulder capsule thickens and bands of tissues, called adhesions, form. It is characterized by persistent stiffness and pain, which has a gradual onset. While the symptoms of frozen shoulder are usually resolved on its own, there are ways to manage the pain or even prevent it from happening altogether.

The shoulder capsule consists of a group of ligaments that cover the shoulder joint. These

ligaments connect the humerus (the upper arm bone) to the glenoid (the shoulder socket).

The shoulder capsule is a very important structure as it stabilizes the shoulder joint.

A frozen shoulder can be very painful as it causes the shoulder joint to become stiff and tight. Due to the thickness of the ligaments, there is often less synovial fluid (liquid found between your joints) to lubricate the joint. 

There are three stages of progression for frozen shoulder:

Stage 1: Freezing

Pain will slowly start to worsen and the range of motion in the shoulder will decrease. Pain will often be worse at night. This stage lasts about 6-9 weeks.

Stage 2: Frozen

Pain may be alleviated, but the stiffness remains. Movement is restricted, making daily activities difficult. This stage lasts about 4-6 months.

Stage 3: Thawing

Shoulder motion increases and may return to normal. Pain may recur occasionally. This stage

can last anywhere between 6 months and 2 years.

Risk of developing frozen shoulder increases with immobility. Often this immobility is a result

of a rotator cuff injury, broken arm, or recovery from surgery. Some diseases that also

increase the risk of frozen shoulder include diabetes, hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism,

cardiovascular disease, and Parkinson’s disease.

Frozen shoulder can be treated with physical therapy. Treatment usually begins with stretching and range of motion exercises. Once pain diffuses and the range of motion increases, strengthening exercises may also be added to the treatment. Daily stretching and mobility exercises can be very beneficial to prevent frozen shoulder. If you have had an injury recently that has reduced your mobility, consult with your doctor or physical therapist about range of motion exercises and stretching that you can do to prevent a frozen shoulder.

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