We’ve all heard of Frozen Shoulder, or Adhesive Capsulitis as it’s known in the medical world. But what is it? Why does it happen? And why is it so painful?
In terms of orthopaedic conditions, frozen shoulder is a bit of a special one. Our shoulders have adapted for a really large range of movement, and this means they need a nice big joint capsule for free movement. Frozen shoulder happens when the fabric of the joint capsule sticks to itself and becomes inflamed, painful and stiff. The tissues around the shoulder joint get tight and shrink, limiting movement.
Frozen shoulder can occur if your arm is immobile for a while, either from an injury or surgery. People who are diabetic can also be more prone to getting frozen shoulders, but overall there is no clear reason why shoulders freeze.
A frozen shoulder can last for about 18 months – with physios typically describing it as a three step process, with each lasting around 6 months.
Freezing Stage – Your shoulder is painful to move and gradually becomes more and more restricted
Frozen Stage – Your shoulder is less painful, but very restricted and weak
Thawing Stage – You gradually regain movement and strength in your shoulder
Although this is a frequently implemented model of diagnosis, frozen shoulder has been known to last for up to five years!
The most important thing to do in terms of treatment is to try to maintain the range of movement and elasticity of the soft tissues of the shoulder joint during the first and second stages of frozen shoulder. Your GP may prescribe medications to alleviate pain and swelling in addition to rehab exercises, and in some cases a steroid injection may be appropriate.