Most people take putting on a coat or brushing their hair for granted. But for those with frozen shoulder, even the most basic activities become exercises in excruciating pain. And if not properly treated, the syndrome can become a long-term disabling condition.
The symptoms are subtle to start: a little stiffness or soreness in your shoulder joint. But instead of getting better, the discomfort increases. There are three recognized stages of frozen shoulder, also known as adhesive capsulitis,
The first phase is the painful or freezing stage, where patients report pain occurring with any shoulder movement and the joint’s range of motion starts to become limited. After about six months this turns into the frozen stage. Ironically, during this phase the pain actually starts to decrease, however the shoulder becomes increasingly stiff and its range of motion decreases, often dramatically. This stage can last a year or longer. The past phase is called the thawing stage, when the range of motion begins to improve. The return of function can take up to two years.
The impact of frozen shoulder on one’s daily life is extraordinary. And because of the pain, sleep is often disrupted, bringing on another batch of symptoms such as fatigue, irritability, lack of focus, and potential weight gain.
The shoulder’s bones, ligaments, and tendons are encased in connective tissue. Frozen shoulder occurs when the tissue thickens. But why this happens is unknown. Neither the medical or chiropractic communities have identified a definitive cause. There are apparent risk factors, however. For example, patients recovering from a stroke or a mastectomy are at higher risk as are those recovering from injuries resulting in prolonged immobility or reduced mobility such as a rotator cuff injury, a broken arm, or surgery. Adults 40 years old and up are also more likely to develop frozen shoulder and the majority of patients are women.
Certain medical conditions are also associated with frozen shoulder including diabetes, hyper- and hypothyroidism, cardiovascular disease, tuberculosis, and Parkinson’s disease.
Treatment programs for frozen shoulder usually include stretching exercises and some mechanical manipulations but there is no standardized approach. Chiropractic researcher Shawn Thistle says there simply is no best answer yet, partly because each patient’s case presents differently. One thing that has been discerned is that anti-inflammatory drugs do not offer relief.
But at the first sign of any shoulder pain, it is important to have it checked out so that a treatment plan can be devised to hopefully lessen the condition’s impact. But in most cases, frozen shoulder takes between two and four years to resolve.