Frozen Shoulder

Frozen shoulder, or adhesive capsulitis, is a condition characterized by stiffness and pain in the shoulder joint. The shoulder joint becomes inflamed and thickened, limiting movement.

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Your Guide to Understanding Frozen Shoulder

What is Frozen Shoulder?

Frozen shoulder, also known as adhesive capsulitis, is a condition that affects the shoulder joint, causing stiffness and pain. It occurs when the connective tissues surrounding the shoulder joint become inflamed and thickened, leading to a decrease in the joint's mobility. This can result in significant discomfort and limited range of motion.

The exact cause of frozen shoulder is not fully understood. However, certain factors may increase the risk of developing this condition. These include age (most common between the ages of 40 and 60), being female, having diabetes, previous shoulder trauma or surgery, and prolonged immobilization of the shoulder joint. While anyone can develop frozen shoulder, it tends to be more common in individuals with these risk factors.

How can Physiotherapy help treat Frozen Shoulder?

Physiotherapy services play a crucial role in alleviating frozen shoulder, also known as adhesive capsulitis. Physiotherapists specialize in assessing and treating this condition by focusing on pain relief, increasing range of motion, and restoring shoulder function.

They use a combination of manual therapy techniques, such as joint mobilizations and soft tissue massage, to reduce stiffness and improve mobility in the shoulder joint. In addition, physiotherapists provide tailored exercise programs that target specific muscles and promote stretching and strengthening of the affected area. By providing guidance on proper posture and movement patterns, physiotherapy helps alleviate frozen shoulder and improves overall shoulder function.

What causes Frozen Shoulder?

Frozen shoulder, also known as adhesive capsulitis, is typically caused by the inflammation and thickening of the connective tissues surrounding the shoulder joint. While the exact cause is not fully understood, certain factors may increase the risk of developing this condition.

One common cause is previous shoulder trauma or injury, such as a fracture, dislocation, or rotator cuff tear. Inflammation and scar tissue formation from these injuries can contribute to the development of frozen shoulder. Another risk factor is prolonged immobilization of the shoulder joint, often due to wearing a sling or being in a cast. When the shoulder is immobilized for an extended period, the tissues can become stiff and the joint's range of motion can be affected.

What treatments might help Frozen Shoulder?

Treatment for frozen shoulder aims to improve symptoms, increase range of motion, and alleviate pain. Here are some common approaches used to improve frozen shoulder:

  • Physical Therapy: Physical therapy exercises and stretches play a crucial role in treating frozen shoulder. A physical therapist can guide you through specific exercises to help restore mobility and improve the range of motion in your shoulder joint. These exercises may include gentle stretching, range-of-motion exercises, and strengthening exercises.
  • Heat and Cold Therapy: Applying heat or cold to the affected shoulder can help reduce pain and inflammation associated with frozen shoulder. Warm compresses or heating pads can help relax the shoulder muscles and improve blood circulation. Cold packs or ice packs can help reduce swelling and numb the area, providing temporary pain relief.
  • Medications: Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as acetaminophen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), can help manage pain and reduce inflammation associated with frozen shoulder. In some cases, healthcare professionals may prescribe stronger pain medications or corticosteroid injections for more severe pain.
  • Manual Therapy: Chiropractic adjustments, massage therapy, and other manual techniques can be beneficial in improving frozen shoulder. These therapies aim to mobilize the shoulder joint, reduce muscle tension, and promote healing. However, it's essential to consult with a qualified healthcare professional experienced in treating frozen shoulder before undergoing any manual therapy.
  • Surgical Intervention: In rare cases where conservative treatments do not provide sufficient relief, surgical intervention may be considered. Surgical options for frozen shoulder include manipulation under anesthesia, where the shoulder is forcefully moved to break up scar tissue, or arthroscopic surgery to remove adhesions and release tight structures in the shoulder joint.

Signs of Frozen Shoulder:

Frozen shoulder, also known as adhesive capsulitis, is characterized by certain signs and symptoms. Here are some common indicators to look out for:

  • Shoulder Stiffness: One of the main signs of frozen shoulder is stiffness in the shoulder joint. You may find it difficult to move your shoulder freely in all directions. The stiffness can be gradual and progressive, limiting your range of motion over time.
  • Pain: Frozen shoulder often causes pain in the affected shoulder. The pain may be dull or achy and may worsen with movement or when pressure is applied to the area. Sometimes, the pain can extend from the shoulder down towards the upper arm.
  • Limited Range of Motion: Another prominent sign is a decreased range of motion in the shoulder joint. You may have difficulty reaching overhead, behind your back, or across your body. Simple actions like fastening a bra or tucking in a shirt may become challenging due to the restricted movement.
  • Difficulty Sleeping: Many individuals with frozen shoulder experience difficulty sleeping. The pain and discomfort can make it challenging to find a comfortable position that does not aggravate the shoulder.

Symptoms of Frozen Shoulder:

Frozen shoulder, also known as adhesive capsulitis, can cause several symptoms that may vary in intensity from person to person. Here are some common symptoms to look out for:

  • Shoulder Stiffness: The most prominent symptom of frozen shoulder is stiffness in the affected shoulder joint. You may experience a gradual onset of stiffness, making it difficult to move the shoulder freely.
  • Pain: Frozen shoulder can be accompanied by pain in the affected shoulder. The pain may range from a dull ache to sharp or shooting sensations. It can be more pronounced when you move the shoulder or apply pressure to the area.
  • Limited Range of Motion: Another key symptom is a restricted range of motion in the shoulder joint. You may find it challenging to perform everyday activities that require overhead reaching, behind-the-back movements, or reaching across your body.
  • Difficulty Sleeping: Many individuals with frozen shoulder experience difficulty sleeping due to the discomfort and pain. Finding a comfortable position that does not worsen the shoulder symptoms can be challenging.
  • Shoulder Weakness: In some cases, frozen shoulder can lead to weakness in the affected shoulder. This can make it harder to perform tasks that require strength, such as lifting objects or carrying out certain physical activities.
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When is the right time to see a Physiotherapist for Frozen Shoulder?

If you are experiencing symptoms of frozen shoulder, it is advisable to consult with a healthcare professional such as a physiotherapist. Here are some indicators that may suggest it is the right time to seek their assistance:

  • Persistent Shoulder Stiffness: If you notice ongoing stiffness in your shoulder joint that limits your ability to move it freely, it may be a good time to seek help. Physiotherapists can assess your condition and provide appropriate treatment options to improve mobility.
  • Increasing Pain and Discomfort: If you are experiencing worsening pain and discomfort in your shoulder, especially during movement or at rest, it is worth seeking professional advice. These practitioners can evaluate your symptoms and recommend interventions to alleviate pain, reduce inflammation, and promote healing.
  • Difficulty Performing Daily Activities: When your frozen shoulder starts interfering with your ability to carry out daily activities such as dressing, reaching, or lifting objects, it may be beneficial to consult a healthcare professional. They can provide guidance on exercises, stretches, and techniques to improve functionality and restore your ability to perform these tasks.
  • Lack of Progress with Home Remedies: If you have been trying home remedies such as gentle exercises, heat or cold therapy, and over-the-counter pain relievers without significant improvement, it may be time to seek professional help. Physiotherapists have specialized knowledge and techniques to address frozen shoulder effectively.

Meet our Lead Registered Physiotherapist

Brittany Pereira

Brittany Pereira

Registered Physiotherapist

Registered Physiotherapist with a degree from the University of Toronto

Brittany enjoys working with patients across age groups and backgrounds to help them move better, get stronger, understand their bodies and ultimately, feel more confident. She combines her knowledge and clinical experience to best serve her patients.

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Physiotherapist Brittany Pereira working with client at Anchor Health and Performance Clinic Mississauga
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