Frozen What?

August 25, 2016

old man winter (2)

Pain can be a nuisance, especially if it affects your day-to-day function and it involves your dominant arm. If you have pain deep in your shoulder and it hurts to move your arm, especially to reach the back of your head, it may be adhesive capsulitis. Although it can occur in one or both shoulders, adhesive capsulitis, or more commonly known as “frozen shoulder,” only affects 2-5% of the population. (“Frozen” was a great movie but it’s not a term you want given to your shoulder.) Women are affected more than men, and most often between the ages of 40 and 60 years old. It is a condition that causes pain and stiffness in the shoulder joint. If you have underlying conditions such as thyroid disease or autoimmune disorders, you may be more at risk. In addition, if you have diabetes, it can occur two to four times more often. It can really put a crimp on your golf or tennis game or swimming stroke.

Frozen shoulder is known to go through 3 phases:

In phase 1, your shoulder is “freezing.” This is where pain has been worsening over 1-3 months and feels sharp with movement.

In phase 2, your shoulder is “frozen.”  During this time, motion is very limited and pain is especially worse at night—enough to wake you. These symptoms can last for 4-12 months.

Lastly, in phase 3, the shoulder is “thawing.” Although this stage can last up to 2-3 years, as time goes on you will be able to move your arm more and sleep will improve, especially your tolerance to lay on the affected side.

Often, this diagnosis has no known cause, though it has been known to occur after having shoulder surgery or due to immobility such as after a stroke. Symptoms are known to last up to 18 months to 3 years. Physical therapy can help along the way to decrease pain and with exercises to increase motion, regain strength and the overall function of your arm.  The good news is that it will (slowly) get better with time and much patience.

By Effie Koustas, MSPT