Frozen shoulder, medically known as adhesive capsulitis of the shoulder, is condition where the connective tissues enclosing the shoulder joint becomes thickened and tight causing pain and stiffness. Over time, the shoulder becomes very hard to move.
Signs and symptoms of frozen shoulder usually develop gradually, and after a period of worsening condition, tends to resolve and go away. This can typically happen from a year up to 3 years until full recovery. Frozen shoulder most commonly affects people between the ages of 40 and 60, and occurs in women more often than men. In addition, people with diabetes are at an increased risk for developing frozen shoulder. Estimates show that this affects about 3% of people.
How It Happens
There are three bones that make up your shoulder. They are the humerus (upper arm), scapula (shoulder blade), and clavicle (collarbone). These bones form a ball-and-socket joint. There’s also the tissues, called the shoulder capsule, that surround your shoulder.
When you have frozen shoulder, the capsule becomes so thick and tight that it greatly restricts movement. Scar tissues form and there’s less of the synovial fluid to keep your joint lubricated, and thus limiting your range of movement. If you are recovering from an injury that limits your arm movement, then your risk of frozen shoulder also increases.
Symptoms of Frozen Shoulder
Main symptoms of a frozen shoulder include pain and stiffness that make it very difficult, almost impossible to move. There is dull or aching pain which is typically worse early and when you move your arm. You will feel a dull or achy pain in one shoulder and also in the shoulder muscles that wrap around the top of your arm. The pain could also get worse at night. Frozen shoulder typically go through three phases. Each stage can last a number of months.
1. Freezing stage
You develop worsening pain in your shoulder and any movement causes pain. As the pain worsens, your shoulder’s range of motion starts to become limited. Freezing typically lasts from 6 weeks to 9 months.
2. Frozen stage
Your pain may actually begin to diminish during this stage but your shoulder stiffness becomes worse. It becomes more difficult to use your shoulder and performing daily activities may become cumbersome. Frozen stage can last 4 to 6 months.
3. Thawing stage
Shoulder’s range of movement slowly begins to improve during this stage. Normal movement can take 6 months to 2 years.
Treatment for Frozen Shoulder
Your treatment might include going to a physical therapist for exercises targeting your shoulder ROM (range of movement). Over the counter anti-inflammatory drugs can relieve the inflammation and pain. Sometimes, numbing medications injected into the joint capsule are also prescribed. However, these remedies don’t address the root cause of the problem and only address the symptoms. In some cases of frozen shoulder, surgery may be performed to loosen the joint capsule so that it can move more freely.
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