Treating Frozen Shoulder

This article will discuss the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and, most importantly, the treatment options available for managing a frozen shoulder effectively. 

If you’re experiencing persistent shoulder pain and stiffness, don’t hesitate to seek professional help. Orthopedic Specialists & Sports Medicine, with locations in Granville and Coshocton, Ohio, is here to provide personalized care and treatment options tailored to your needs. Schedule an appointment today and take the first step towards regaining mobility and comfort in your shoulder.

What is Frozen Shoulder?

Frozen shoulder (medically known as adhesive capsulitis) is a condition that affects the shoulder joint, causing stiffness and pain. Imagine your shoulder joint like a ball and socket, where the upper arm bone fits into the shoulder blade. 

With frozen shoulder, the tissues around the joint become tight and thick, making it hard to move. This stiffness limits the range of motion, making everyday activities like reaching or lifting difficult and painful.

A woman with frozen shoulder pain in Newark, Ohio.

What Causes Frozen Shoulder?

Frozen shoulder can develop for various reasons. One common factor is the buildup of scar tissue in the shoulder joint. This scar tissue thickens and tightens the joint capsule, which is the connective tissue that surrounds the shoulder joint, leading to stiffness and restricted movement.

Injuries to the shoulder, such as a rotator cuff tear, can also contribute to frozen shoulder. When the shoulder is injured, whether due to trauma or overuse, inflammation and swelling can occur. This inflammation can trigger the body’s natural healing response, which sometimes involves the formation of excess scar tissue. Over time, this scar tissue can cause the shoulder joint to become stiff and painful.

Certain medical conditions and lifestyle factors may also increase the risk of developing frozen shoulder. For example, people with diabetes are more prone to developing frozen shoulder, possibly due to changes in the body’s connective tissues or blood sugar levels affecting tissue health. Additionally, individuals who have recently had surgery or experienced prolonged immobility, such as being bedridden, may be at higher risk.

Age and gender can also play a role. Frozen shoulder tends to occur more frequently in people between the ages of 40 and 60, with women being slightly more likely to develop it than men.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Frozen Shoulder?

Frozen shoulder is characterized by several distinct signs and symptoms. The most common frozen shoulder symptoms include:

  • Shoulder Pain: Persistent pain in the shoulder joint is a hallmark symptom of frozen shoulder. The pain may be dull and aching, and it often worsens with movement.
  • Stiffness: Limited shoulder movement is another key indicator. People with frozen shoulder often find it challenging to move their shoulder in various directions, such as lifting the arm overhead or reaching behind the back.
  • Difficulty with Activities: Daily activities that involve using the affected arm become difficult. Simple tasks like putting on clothes, reaching for items on high shelves, or combing hair may become painful or impossible.
  • Progressive Symptoms: Frozen shoulder symptoms typically worsen over time. Initially, there may be mild discomfort and stiffness, but these symptoms tend to intensify gradually, making shoulder movement increasingly difficult.
  • Sleep Disturbances: Shoulder pain from frozen shoulder can interfere with sleep, particularly when lying on the affected arm or side. This can lead to sleep disturbances and fatigue.
  • Pain at Rest: In some cases, people with frozen shoulder experience pain even when the shoulder is at rest. This discomfort may be present throughout the day and can be particularly bothersome at night.

Recognizing these signs and symptoms is essential for early diagnosis and treatment of frozen shoulder. If you experience persistent shoulder pain, stiffness, or difficulty with shoulder movement, it’s important to consult a healthcare professional for evaluation and appropriate management.

How is Frozen Shoulder Diagnosed? 

Diagnosing frozen shoulder typically involves a physical examination and a discussion of your symptoms and medical history. Your doctor will assess your shoulder movement, looking for signs of stiffness and limited range of motion. They may also inquire about any shoulder injury or medical conditions you’ve had in the past.

In some cases, imaging tests such as X-rays or MRI scans may be ordered to rule out other conditions and to get a clearer picture of the shoulder joint. These tests can help confirm the diagnosis of frozen shoulder by showing thickening and inflammation of the joint capsule.

Overall, the combination of your symptoms, medical history, and physical examination findings, along with any imaging tests, helps your doctor make an accurate diagnosis of frozen shoulder. Early diagnosis is crucial for initiating appropriate treatment and improving shoulder function.

What Are the Treatment Methods for Frozen Shoulder?

Treatment for frozen shoulder aims to alleviate pain, improve shoulder movement, and restore function. Common frozen shoulder treatment methods include:

  • Physical Therapy: Physical therapy plays a central role in treating frozen shoulder. A physical therapist can design a customized exercise program to help stretch and strengthen the muscles and tissues around the shoulder joint. These exercises can improve flexibility and mobility, reducing stiffness and pain over time.
  • Pain Management: Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, may help alleviate shoulder pain associated with frozen shoulder. In some cases, your doctor may recommend prescription medications or corticosteroid injections to reduce inflammation and pain.
  • Heat and Cold Therapy: Applying heat or cold packs to the affected shoulder can help reduce pain and inflammation. Alternating between heat and cold therapy may provide additional relief.
  • Activity Modification: Avoiding activities that worsen shoulder pain or strain can help prevent further irritation of the joint. Modify your daily activities to minimize stress on the shoulder joint and allow for proper healing.
  • Joint Mobilization: In some cases, manual therapy techniques performed by a physical therapist, such as joint mobilization or manipulation, may help improve shoulder movement and function.

What Not to Do if You Have Frozen Shoulder 

If you have frozen shoulder, avoid doing the following things: 

  • Avoid Overexertion: While exercise is beneficial, avoid overexerting or pushing through severe pain during physical therapy or daily activities. Doing so can exacerbate symptoms and delay healing.
  • Limit Heavy Lifting: Refrain from lifting heavy objects or participating in activities that require excessive shoulder movement or strain, as this can worsen symptoms and impede recovery.
  • Don’t Ignore Pain: Ignoring persistent shoulder pain or avoiding treatment can lead to worsening symptoms and prolonged recovery time. It’s essential to seek medical attention and follow the prescribed treatment plan for frozen shoulder.

By following these treatment methods and avoiding activities that exacerbate symptoms, individuals with frozen shoulder can effectively manage their condition and improve shoulder function over time.

Schedule an Appointment With Us Today! 

Seeking early and comprehensive treatment is key to managing frozen shoulder effectively and restoring shoulder function. 

If you’re experiencing persistent shoulder pain and stiffness, don’t hesitate to reach out to us at Orthopedic Specialists & Sports Medicine. With locations in Granville and Coshocton, OH, our team of orthopedic specialists can provide personalized care and treatment options tailored to your needs. Schedule an appointment today to start your journey towards a healthier, pain-free shoulder!

Medically reviewed by Brad L. Bernacki, MD

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