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What Can I Do About a Frozen Shoulder?

You haven’t been in an accident and you’ve sustained no injuries, yet you can’t move your shoulder to do normal, everyday things like open a cupboard or take off your shirt. You may have adhesive capsulitis, otherwise known as frozen shoulder.

Most people suffer some kind of shoulder pain in their lives, and up to 5% of those cases can be categorized as frozen shoulder syndrome. Dr. Damon Christian Kimes, our leading pain management expert here at Roswell Pain and Weight Loss Specialists, helps you figure out what happened to your shoulder and, more importantly, how to get back to normal again.

Frozen shoulder explained

Frozen shoulder, or adhesive capsulitis, is a term that describes a condition in your joint that starts out with pain, then progresses into stiffness and lack of mobility, then eventually returns to normal. 

If you could see inside your shoulder, you’d see thickened ligaments and cartilage, swelling, and excessively tight connections — maybe even some scar tissue.

It generally strikes adults between the ages of 40 and 60, and tends to affect women more than men. 

I haven’t been injured, so what caused my frozen shoulder?

Although an injury can lead to a frozen shoulder, it’s generally not the cause of it. By that we mean your injury (like a broken arm that requires a sling for an extended period of time) could be a factor in your frozen shoulder, because long stints of immobility cause the tissues in your shoulder to swell, thicken, and stiffen.

Likewise, extended illness or even surgery — anything that makes you sedentary — can contribute to frozen shoulder syndrome.

Diabetes and thyroid conditions also put you at greater risk for frozen shoulder, so properly monitoring your symptoms can help you prevent your shoulder from seizing up.

3 stages of frozen shoulder

Typically, frozen shoulder progresses through three stages of development over a period of about two or three years.

1. Freezing

In the beginning, you notice twinges of pain that become progressively worse. During this “freezing” phase, your joint becomes stiffer, more painful, and you find that your range of motion has decreased. This stage lasts two to nine months.

2. Frozen

Most people report that for the next four to six months, their pain subsides somewhat, but the “frozen” part is still very real. They simply can’t move the joint to perform everyday tasks.

3. Thawing

After the first year, those who suffer from frozen shoulder syndrome begin to gain some hope. Their joint begins to loosen up, and they regain some of the range of motion. Over time (up to three years), the shoulder eventually returns to normal function.

What you can do about frozen shoulder syndrome

Given enough time, your frozen shoulder may resolve itself without intervention, but three years is a long time to go without the use of your shoulder. Here are your treatment options.

Physical therapy

Although it may seem counterintuitive (and painful), movement is the best medicine for your frozen shoulder. But not just any movement. Dr. Kimes instructs you on how to make precise motions that target the tightened tissues without causing further damage. 

There’s no substitute for physical therapy, including passive stretches and strategic flexes that encourage your joint to speed up the healing process. It may help to apply gentle heat to your shoulder before your exercises and ice afterward.

Anti-inflammatory treatments

Since inflammation is one of the main culprits causing your frozen shoulder, reducing that swelling can bring you significant pain relief.

Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen and aspirin can take the edge off your intense pain so that you can continue with your physical therapy.

If you need something stronger, Dr. Kimes may recommend an injection of cortisone to quickly and directly address the swelling inside the joint.

Surgery

Surgery isn’t always necessary to treat adhesive capsulitis, but when scar tissue has built up and your body won’t heal itself, you may need to have some of that extra tissue removed. There are two main ways we can help.

The first way is noninvasive. While you’re under anesthesia, Dr. Kimes manipulates your shoulder through a full range of motion to break up the scar tissue inside your shoulder’s capsule, stretching and tearing until your shoulder moves freely.

The second way is arthroscopic surgery. In this procedure, Dr. Kimes makes tiny incisions and uses small instruments to surgically cut through and remove scar tissue. 

If you have a frozen shoulder, there’s hope. To find out what stage you’re in and what treatment options are best for you, call us today at our Roswell, Georgia, office or book an appointment online.

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