In our office we often find the term 'frozen shoulder' misused.
The term is commonly used to describe any persistent shoulder pain and restricted movement.
Shoulder problems can be complex and require a thorough assessment to be accurately diagnosed and as with any other joint problem.
The success of any treatment depends on correct diagnosis and cooperation between patient and practitioner.
What is a Frozen shoulder?
Frozen shoulder, or “adhesive capsulitis” to give it the medical term, refers to loss of arm movement at the shoulder joint combined with inflammation of the tissues within the joint capsule that surrounds the shoulder and is often accompanied by a great degree of pain during even the slightest movements.
These tissues become thickened and shortened and eventually 'stick' together, hence the medical term - adhesive capsulitis.
There are three stages:
What are the symptoms?
- “Freezing Phase” Initially, there is progressive limitation of all movements of the shoulder. This may follow a recent minor trauma, dislocation, prolonged immobilisation, heart attack (myocardial infarction) and sometimes neck problems (cervical radiculitis). Pain may or may not accompany this, although pain will be felt if you try to exceed the limited movement. This phase can last anywhere between 2 and 9 months.
- “Frozen Phase” As the fluid in the joint becomes thickened there may be more pain and eventually, the condition progresses until all movement is greatly restricted. This phase can last from 4 to 12 months.
- “Thawing Phase” As the inflammation begins to subside so does any pain experienced. During this phase movement in the shoulder begins to gradually return but may or may not recover 100% if left untreated. This phase characteristically lasts between 6 to 9 months
Early Diagnosis is vital because the condition is reversible.
Once it has progressed into the adhesive/frozen stage, some persistent restriction may remain.
The recovery period varies depending on how long the problem has been there and the severity of it. It is not uncommon for it to take up to 6 months to recover with treatment and up to 12-24 months without treatment.
But as other shoulder problems are often labelled 'frozen shoulder', it is important to have your shoulder examined for an accurate diagnosis and treatment to be given.