How to get a frozen shoulder moving again

Are you suddenly having trouble reaching for your phone or the remote control? Do you sometimes need help to get dressed? The pain you’re feeling could be the result of a frozen shoulder. It’s uncommon in young people, and mostly affects men and women between the ages of 40-60 years.

The gradual loss of movement in your shoulder (also known as “adhesive capsulitis”), is an inflammation of tissue surrounding the shoulder joint. The joint in the shoulder consists of a ball and socket that’s freely movable. When the shoulder is frozen, it simply means that the joint is stuck and its movement is limited.

What are the causes?

The tissues that wrap around and hold the joint together are called the “capsule”, normally has folds that can expand and contract as your arm moves into different positions. When the capsule becomes inflamed it results in a frozen shoulder which leads to scarring. As the capsule’s folds become tighter, thicker and more scarred, your shoulder movements become more restricted. Moving the joint becomes difficult and painful. A frozen shoulder has three stages that cause stiffness, pain and swelling.

  1. Freezing. This is the onset of pain and stiffness in the shoulder. This phase is known to last for about two to nine months.
  2. Frozen. The pain may reduce but the stiffness remains. Symptoms during this phase can last between four to 12 months.
  3. Thawing. You’re on the road to recovery! Your shoulder may slowly regain movement, and there’s a gradual decrease in pain that can go on for about five to 12 months.
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Am I at risk?

Diabetics, people weakened immune systems, and/or those with hormonal imbalance are at risk of developing a frozen shoulder. You could also develop joint inflammation if you’ve been inactive from an injury, surgery or illness.

Help at hand 

Early treatment can help keep the condition from getting worse. If you’re diabetic, it’s important to keep your glucose-levels well. In most cases, though, a frozen shoulder can get better on its own without treatment, although some people never fully regain their motion.

  • Physical therapy: Stretching your shoulder joint carefully and gently over time will help regain lost motion along with daily exercises. Speak to your doctor about alternative options.
  • Medication: Your doctor may prescribe anti-inflammatory medication to treat pain and joint inflammation. A steroid injection may also help.
  • Home care: Place an ice pack on your shoulder daily to help alleviate the pain. Ask your physio for a few at-home exercises too.
  • Surgery: This is the last resort! If physical therapy doesn’t improve your condition, surgery may be your best bet. Arthroscopic surgery may be recommended. This involves a small incision in your shoulder, and removal or release of scar tissue using a small camera (arthroscope).