What is a Frozen Shoulder?
A ‘frozen shoulder’ is a condition characterized by stiffness and pain in your shoulder joint. Symptoms typically begin gradually, worsen over time and then resolve. This usually happens within one to three years. A frozen shoulder develops slowly and in three stages: the freezing stage, frozen stage and thawing stage.
Cause and Symptoms
The bones, ligaments and tendons that make up your shoulder joint are encased in a capsule of connective tissue. Frozen shoulder occurs when this capsule thickens and tightens around the shoulder joint, restricting its movement. One of the most common causes of frozen shoulder is the immobility that may result during recovery from a shoulder injury, broken arm or a stroke that prevents you from moving your arm. Here are some of the symptoms in each stage:
- Freezing stage – at this stage any movement of your arm is likely to cause pain and your shoulder’s range of motion starts to become limited.
- Frozen stage – at this stage the pain might become less, but your shoulder becomes stiffer. Your shoulder’s range of motion decreases and moving the arm becomes more difficult.
- Thawing stage – at this stage your shoulder’s range of motion will begin to improve.
The treatment for a frozen shoulder is focused on relieving pain and restoring the shoulder’s normal range of motion. An ice pack to the shoulder a few times a day may help with pain, or your GP may recommend an anti-inflammatory medication. However, the foundation of treatment is physical therapy, concentrating first on exercises that stretch the joint capsule, and later, on strengthening exercises. You should also avoid any activities that require overhead reaching, lifting, or anything else that aggravates your pain.