Frozen Shoulder: A Sticky Situation

Frozen Shoulder

Adhesive Capsulitis is the formal name for the condition commonly known as “frozen shoulder.” Perhaps you’re familiar with descriptions of stiffness and pain in the shoulder joint, a hard-stop feeling when attempting to move the arm at the shoulder in certain directions, and a distinct tenderness in a small thumb-print sized region of the chest near the collarbone and shoulder joint.

All of these signs are the result of the thick bands of connective tissue around the joint, what is called the joint capsule, thickening and becoming inflamed, which in turn restricts mobility (in part anyway, more on that later). Was it brought on by a sudden, severe injury? Perhaps, but most likely not. Interestingly, frozen shoulder seems to onset gradually in most cases, and then worsens over time.

Frozen Shoulder Recovery

People who are recovering from any kind of procedure or incident that prevents them from moving their arm, for instance a broken limb, rotator cuff tear, bursitis, or even a stroke, or mastectomy are more at risk of developing a frozen shoulder.

Doctors aren’t sure why, but there are also definitely factors related to immune function and other systemic diseases, which can cause an onset. For instance, diabetes, over or underactive thyroid, cardiovascular disease, or autoimmune diseases like lupus or Lyme disease. Could this be related to an overall inflammatory reaction throughout the body, or an inefficiency in processing metabolic waste, which effects the joint’s mobility as tissues react to the body environment? It’s hard to say and studies are limited. But, what has been observed is upswing in developing frozen shoulder in conjunction with these types of diseases.

Stages of Frozen Shoulder

The three stages of frozen shoulder are as follow: a freezing stage (“any movement of the shoulder cases pain…range of motion starts to become limited”), frozen stage (“pain may begin to diminish…shoulder becomes stiffer, and using it becomes more difficult.”), and thawing stage (“the range of motion begins to improve”)1 The entire lifespan of the frozen shoulder can last anywhere from months to 3-5 years.

There are scores of opinions and information on various websites that advise everything from “leave it alone and let it work itself out” all the way to some very intense therapeutic treatments. Traditionally, frozen shoulder has been regarded as a dysfunction that given enough time will eventually work itself out. However, one interesting component to the longevity of this condition may have less to do with the inflammation of the capsule itself, but our own protective, neurological tendencies to subconsciously “lock down” an injured or weak area, even after it has already healed (this is the “more on that” bit I was referencing earlier in the article).

This is where targeted, gentle exercises, stretching, and AMF’s favorite modality MASSAGE come in. By working with the shoulder, particularly in the early stages when symptoms begin to onset, it may be possible to shorten the recovery time. At AMF, we use a variety of techniques within the accessible passive range of motion, with as little discomfort as possible, to coax the connective tissue and surrounding musculature to soften, as well as soothe the neurological inhibition around moving the joint. Further, we understand that the shoulder is just one part of the bigger whole that is your body, so we design our work to include working with the neck, elbow, wrist, hand, and even the opposing shoulder, and hip.

Think you might have frozen shoulder? Consult your doctor, chiropractor, or physical therapist. Then, come see us. We have the tools as well as the know how to work with your healthcare team and get you on the road to recovery.