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How to Treat Frozen Shoulder

Adhesive capsulitis or frozen shoulder is a medical condition characterized by chronic pain and stiffness in the shoulder joint. Frozen shoulder develops when the tissues in the shoulder capsule become thicker and tighter. The scar tissue develops gradually over time and reduces the space required for shoulder joint to rotate properly. The swelling and pain in the shoulder hamper the range of motion which makes day to day life harder for patients with frozen shoulder. Frozen shoulder typically takes around 1 to 3 years to heal completely.

Causes of Frozen Shoulder

Frozen shoulder is more likely to occur in people who have diabetes or had prolonged immobility or reduced mobility of the shoulder for a long period, such as after surgery, stroke or an arm injury.

Risk Factors

  • Age- People over 40 and older are more likely to develop frozen shoulder.
  • Gender- Women are at higher risk of having frozen shoulder between the ages of 40 and 60. Surgery like mastectomy increases the risk of frozen shoulder.
  • Systemic Diseases- Medical conditions like heart disease, overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism), underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism), tuberculosis and Parkinson's disease can lead to frozen shoulder.

Symptoms of Frozen Shoulder

Chronic pain and stiffness in the shoulder are the major symptoms of frozen shoulder. For some people, the shoulder pain worsens at night. People usually feel the pain in the shoulder muscles that wrap around the upper arm.

Frozen shoulder develops gradually in three stages. Each has its own unique symptoms and can last for a number of weeks.

  • Freezing stage- Development of severe pain whenever the shoulder is moved. Shoulder's flexibility and range of motion start to become restricted. The pain slowly gets worse over time and disrupts night sleep. The freezing stage can last anywhere from 6 to 9 months.
  • Frozen stage- Pain alleviates during the frozen stage. However, the stiffness in the shoulder increases and regular movements become more difficult. During this time it becomes hard to perform daily activities. The frozen stage last for 4 to 12 months.
  • Thawing stage- In this stage stiffness in the shoulder disappears. The flexibility and range of motion in shoulder begin to improve and slowly comes back to normal. Thawing stage can last from 6 months to 2 years.

Prevention and Treatment of Frozen Shoulder

1. Shoulder exercises

Frozen shoulder usually occurs after a long period of immobility due to a shoulder injury. After a shoulder injury, it is best to talk to your doctor or physical therapist about shoulder exercises that you can do to maintain the range of motion in your shoulder joint. Most frozen shoulder treatment aims at reducing shoulder pain and improving range of motion to recover mobility.

Rehab therapy exercises for shoulders such as shoulder pulleys stimulates muscles and increase the range of motion.

Frozen Shoulder
Frozen Shoulder
CanDo Shoulder Rehab Kit  BlueRanger Shoulder Pulley Exerciser

2. Shoulder Supports

Wearing shoulder supports or immobilizers after shoulder injury can prevent frozen shoulder. The shoulder supports relieve pain on the joint capsule, muscles, and tendons. While supporting and reinforcing the arm, it safely immobilizes the shoulder joint. It promotes faster healing by keeping the shoulder in an ideal rest position which promotes blood circulation to the rotator cuff and reduces risk of frozen shoulder. The shoulder support sling evenly disperses the weight of an arm onto both shoulders, which reduces the risk of straining shoulder or neck.

Frozen Shoulder
Frozen Shoulder
Frozen Shoulder
FLA Deluxe Shoulder Immobilizer PrePak Shoulder Abduction Support Comfortland ABD Shoulder Pillow

3. Cold Therapy

It is a common misconception that applying heat to frozen shoulder is a good idea. As a matter of fact, it is another way around. Frozen shoulder responds better to cold therapy than heat therapy. Ice packs and cold therapy systems can help reduce the chronic pain and swelling associated with frozen shoulder. Patients suffering from frozen shoulder are often recommended cold therapy by their physical therapists along with rehabilitation exercises like targeted stretching, strengthening exercises and massage therapy.

Frozen Shoulder
Frozen Shoulder
Frozen Shoulder
Battle Creek Cold Therapy Breg Cold Therapy Shoulder Pad Polar Shoulder Cold Therapy System 

4. Topical Pain Relievers

For pain relief, people prefer topical pain relievers over oral painkillers for the fear of complications like a drug overdose, addiction, and other harmful side effects. These topical analgesic pain relief products contain ingredients like Menthol and Camphor to provide quick relief from chronic shoulder pain and muscle aches using pain gate phenomenon of cold therapy.

Frozen Shoulder
Frozen Shoulder
Frozen Shoulder
BioTemper Pain Relief Roll-On Sombra Pain Relieving Gel ARI Medical Pain Relieving Gel

5. Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS)

TENS and EMS units are efficient electrotherapy products used to relieve pain, ease muscle tension and stiffness in people with frozen shoulders. They also help in the stimulation, contraction, and relaxation of muscle fibers, increase blood flow and encourage muscle growth. The TENS unit delivers a small electrical current to key points on a nerve pathway which stimulates the release of pain-inhibiting molecules known as endorphins to block pain signals from reaching the brain.

Frozen Shoulder 
Frozen Shoulder
Frozen Shoulder
BioMedical EMS 2000 Stimulator BioMedical M7 Flip Tens Unit Bilt-Rite Pain Mini TENS Device

6. Acupuncture

Acupuncture is performed by inserting extremely fine needles at specific points on your body. Acupuncture provides pain relief by boosting the endorphins level in the body which reduce the perception of pain. Acupuncture enhances the blood flow in the arteries which in turn helps treat and ease the symptoms of frozen shoulder. Acupuncture therapy thus reduces shoulder pain and increases a range of motion in the rotator cuff region. It is best to choose a licensed and certified acupuncture therapist for proper treatment.

7. Surgery

If the symptoms of frozen shoulder deteriorate and none of the treatments and physical therapy work, your doctor may recommend surgery to remove scar tissue and adhesions from inside your shoulder joint. Surgery for frozen shoulder is however very rare. For the frozen shoulder that has occurred due to an injury, surgery is usually more successful if it’s performed within a few weeks of the injury. Most patients recover their full range of motion back within two to three months of surgery.

There are many other conditions that can affect the shoulder and proper diagnosis of frozen shoulder is crucial. Consult your doctor or physical therapist before beginning any of the treatment and therapy methods.

 

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