Frozen shoulder is characterised by a stiffness, chronic pain and limited range of movement in the shoulder. Sometimes we know there’s a problem and we get treatment, but all too often, we live with it, putting up with limited mobility and accepting that we can’t be as agile and active as we once were.

With proper treatment, a frozen shoulder can be a temporary condition, but without care, it can become permanent. That’s why I want to write this month to highlight the condition, its symptoms and explain what you can do about it so that it doesn’t stop you enjoying a pain-free and active life.

What causes a frozen shoulder?

Adhesive capsulitis, or frozen shoulder, is a blanket term for a stiff shoulder and can have a variety of different causes, including injury and long-term illness. It is the result of inflammation, scarring, thickening or shrinkage of the muscle and connective tissue that surrounds the shoulder joint.

Typically, frozen shoulder goes through three phases – the “freezing” phase, which is very painful, the “frozen” phase where movement becomes restricted and the “thawing” phase during which the shoulder recovers.

Any injury to the shoulder can leave you susceptible to frozen shoulder, however, some of the most common causes are:

  • Tendinitis (inflamed tendon)
  • Bursitis (swelling or irritation of the bursa, the fluid-filled sac which acts as a cushion between bones, muscles and tendons)
  • Rotator-cuff injury. The rotator-cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that surround the shoulder joint.
  • Sometimes it can occur for no apparent reason, becoming a “true” frozen shoulder which will resolve within 18 months to two years – a long time!

Diabetes and frozen shoulder

People who suffer from diabetes or chronic inflammatory arthritis also have a higher risk of developing a frozen shoulder. Other factors that can lead to the condition include:

  • Chest or breast surgery
  • Stroke
  • Long term immobility of the shoulder

It is important for physiotherapists to know the cause or a patient’s frozen shoulder, in order to treat it properly.

Frozen shoulder symptoms – what to look out for

Frozen shoulder isn’t always associated with pain because initial pain and tenderness caused by an injury may resolve itself, but it can still leave a shoulder with a limited range of motion, making it difficult to spot. That’s why the most important symptom of a frozen shoulder is a limited range of motion.

Treatment for frozen shoulder

Most treatments for frozen shoulder starts with an intense course of anti-inflammatory medicine alongside some physical therapy exercises given by your physiotherapist to strengthen and repair your shoulder.

It is important to warm your shoulder up before stretching it, so take a warm shower or bath for 10 to 15 minutes before you start stretching.

The Pendulum stretch

  • Relax both shoulders and lean over so that the affected arm hangs down freely
  • Swing your arm gently in circles
  • Repeat 10 times a day. As symptoms improve, increase the diameter of the circle or add some light weights

Towel Stretch

  • Hold one end of a hand towel (approx. 3ft long) behind your back and grab the opposite end with your other hand
  • With your good arm, pull upwards to stretch the affected shoulder
  • Repeat 10 to 20 times a day

Cross Body reach

  • You can sit or stand for this stretch
  • With your good arm, lift the affected arm at the elbow and gently bring it across your body and hold for 15 seconds
  • Repeat this stretch 10 to 20 times a day

There are other exercises that will help with more general movement and to strengthen your shoulder once your symptoms begin to improve.

Don’t live with a frozen shoulder – see a physio

If you think you may be suffering from a frozen shoulder, please contact your local physiotherapist for a consultation. You could be saving yourself from a lifetime of problems.

For a pain-free, active life, contact the Petersfield Physiotherapy and Sports Injury Clinic or ring 01730 267645 and see how we can help you.