Frozen shoulder, also referred to as adhesive capsulitis is a condition indicated by pain and stiffness in the shoulder joint. There is no known answer to exactly why frozen shoulder may occur, however, people who experience extended periods of shoulder immobility generally are at a higher risk of developing frozen shoulder. Immobility of the shoulder joint may occur because of a rotator cuff injury, broken arm, direct impact to the shoulder joint or during the recovery from surgery. Typically, associated symptoms will worsen over time and can take up to one to three years to fully recover. Although, each individual case of frozen shoulder may differ and time periods to make a full recovery can change dramatically.
The common symptoms of frozen shoulder are categorised into three main stages over the recovery period.
Freezing: Freezing is the first stage of frozen shoulder and is generally the stage whereby pain increases gradually over time, making movement through the shoulder joint harder and harder. During this stage it is noted that pain may be more prominent during night-time. On average this stage can last anywhere from 6 weeks to 9 months.
Frozen: During the second stage pain generally dose not increase however the shoulder remains stiff and movement may be restricted for 4 to 6 months.
Thawing: During the final stage movement begins to ease, the shoulder starts to return to normal and pain begins to fade. This stage can take anywhere between 6 months and 2 years.
The main goal during the treatment of frozen shoulder is to preserve as much range as possible whilst keeping pain to a minimum. Although there is no gold standard when it comes to frozen shoulder there are several methods for treatment. Typically, steroid injections will be administered in the early stages to help maintain mobility and decrease pain however, there is the option of shoulder manipulation or surgery should it be necessary.
Benefit of Exercise Therapy
In 90% of cases frozen shoulder will improve with non-surgical treatment such as physical therapy. The main aim of physical therapy is to increase or restore range of movement to the affected shoulder joint. A series of simple exercises can be completed in your own home which can drastically improve the overall function of the shoulder. Exercise and movements should be conducted within the limits of a person’s pain threshold and can be completed multiple times per day. The key to a full recovery from a frozen shoulder is patience and persistence.
Accredited Exercise Physiologist (AEP, AES) (ESSAM)