Adhesive capsulitis, widely recognised as frozen shoulder, is a condition where patients experience pain and stiffness in the shoulder due to thickened tissue.

The good news is that a frozen shoulder can resolve itself within an average of one to three years. However, in that period, patients will have to endure progressively increasing discomfort as the condition tends to worsen before it improves.

As such, it is important for those affected to thoroughly understand frozen shoulder and its various phases. This will also help them incorporate effective management strategies to minimise the condition’s impact on their lives as it progresses.

What is a Frozen Shoulder?

Adhesive capsulitis occurs when the connective tissue surrounding the shoulder joint, known as the shoulder capsule, becomes thickened and tight. This can happen for various reasons, including not moving the shoulder for some time after an injury or surgery.

The tightening of the tissue often results in pain and a marked decrease in the shoulder’s range of motion. As the condition slowly worsens, daily activities involving shoulder movement, such as reaching high shelves or doing household chores, will become increasingly challenging.

Who is at Risk?

There is no definitive cause for a frozen shoulder. Beyond reduced shoulder mobility due to injury or surgery, the condition has also been associated with diabetes and thyroid gland problems, among others.

However, it has been found that frozen shoulder most commonly affects people between the ages of 40 and 70, and tends to be more prevalent in women than men.

The Three Phases of a Frozen Shoulder

Effective management of a frozen shoulder requires familiarity with its three distinct phases, which all feature varying levels of pain and mobility.

Initial Phase (2 – 9 months)

A gradual onset of pain in the shoulder begins. The pain intensifies over time and extends from the upper arm to the elbow or forearm. Additionally, it persists at rest and worsens with arm movement, affecting sleep. Shoulder mobility begins to decrease.

Stiff Phase (4 – 12 months)

The pain begins to subside, but the shoulder becomes increasingly stiff, especially in twisting movements such as reaching behind the back or head. Compensatory movements from the trunk or scapula become more common due to reduced shoulder function.

Recovery Phase (5 – 26 months)

The pain and stiffness gradually improve, leading to a slow return to everyday arm use. Movement recovery typically starts with the return of the ability to raise the arm forward and ends with being able to reach behind the back. However, avoid forcing these movements if they are painful instead of just stiff.

Treatment and Management

There is no one-size-fits-all treatment for frozen shoulder. However, a combination of exercises and interventions can significantly help manage symptoms and improve mobility. Below are a few exercises that can help:

  1. Pendulum Exercise
  • Technique: Lean forward slightly, allowing the affected arm to hang down. Swing the arm gently in a small circle, about a foot in diameter. Perform clockwise and then counter-clockwise movements.
  • Frequency: Repeat 3-5 times daily, especially during the initial phase.
  1. Overhead Arm Raise
  • Technique: Lying on your back, use your good arm to lift the affected arm overhead until you feel a gentle stretch. Holding a light weight in the affected arm can also be beneficial.
  • Frequency: Repeat for 1 minute, 3-5 times daily.
  1. Cross-Body Reach
  • Technique: Gently stretch the affected arm across the body using the other arm. Hold the stretch for 15-20 seconds.
  • Frequency: Repeat 10 times each session, at least once daily.

You can also apply heat or ice over the affected shoulder, sit upright and with your shoulders back, and sleep either with a pillow under the shoulder or on the non-affected shoulder to relieve pain and stiffness.

Additional Strategies

Besides the suggestions above, a few lifestyle adjustments can also make a significant difference in symptom management and recovery when dealing with a frozen shoulder.

Modify Your Activities

Shoulder mobility is essential for many of our daily activities. However, with that movement now restricted and painful, it’s necessary to reduce shoulder strain as much as possible to help with pain management and recovery.

These changes don’t have to be major – even simple tweaks will make a difference. For example, using a step stool to reach for something high so that you put less stress on your shoulders. Or repositioning your seat while driving so your shoulders aren’t raised so much.

Use Supportive Devices

If your doctor or therapist recommends specific devices or aids to help manage your frozen shoulder, such as slings, feel free to use them.

However, it’s important to remember that while these supportive devices can provide temporary relief, overuse can decrease your shoulder’s mobility due to a lack of use. This, of course, can worsen your condition.

Use these aids as directed, but avoid being overdependent on them. The key is to use them to complement your exercise and therapy routines. Remember that they’re there to support your movement, not restrict or replace it.

Get Educated

Being afflicted with a frozen shoulder can be anxiety-inducing, but knowledge is half the battle. Understanding the condition and what to expect during each stage can help provide a realistic timeframe for recovery. It can also be reassuring to be able to play an active part in your healing process.

Do lots of research but don’t fully rely on desktop searches and anecdotes alone. Be proactive in asking your doctors and nurses about the condition and how you can best manage it, as well as what to expect and what others can do to help you. The more you know, the better prepared you’ll be.

How Osteopathy Can Help with Frozen Shoulders

Among other strategies, osteopathy offers a tailored and effective solution for those struggling with frozen shoulder. At the heart of this approach is gentle joint manipulation. Osteopaths use their expertise to carefully increase shoulder mobility and reduce stiffness, ensuring the process is both comfortable and within the patient’s pain threshold.

Beyond just hands-on therapy, osteopathy also includes personalised exercise programmes to strengthen the shoulder and enhance its flexibility. Additionally, osteopaths provide invaluable advice on posture and lifestyle adjustments. Not only does this help patients with their immediate shoulder recovery, but it also helps prevent other ailments.

Fix Your Frozen Shoulder with Healing Hands Osteopathy

Embark on your journey to freedom from pain and stiffness with Healing Hands Osteopathy. Say goodbye to frozen shoulder and hello to renewed mobility. Contact us today for shoulder pain treatment in Ferntree Gully and take your first step towards recovery!