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What is frozen shoulder?

Updated: Dec 26, 2023

The Three Stages of Frozen Shoulder

Frozen shoulder, also known as adhesive capsulitis, is a medical condition that affects the shoulder joint. It is characterised by pain and stiffness in the shoulder that gradually worsens over time. The condition typically progresses through three main stages:

  1. Freezing Stage: In this initial stage, patients experience increasing pain and a gradual loss of range of motion in the shoulder. This stage can last for several months, and the exact cause of frozen shoulder is not always clear, although it can be associated with inflammation and the formation of adhesions (scar tissue) in the shoulder joint capsule.

  2. Frozen Stage: During this stage, the pain may begin to subside, but the shoulder becomes extremely stiff. It can be difficult to perform even simple tasks and movements like reaching overhead or behind the back. This stage can last for several months to a year or more.

  3. Thawing Stage: In the final stage, the range of motion in the shoulder gradually improves, and the patient experiences a reduction in pain and stiffness. This stage can also take several months to a year or more.

Unfortunately, you are not guaranteed to achieve full function of the shoulder at the conclusion of this condition. Often patients can be left with residual stiffness and lack of shoulder mobility.

Possible Causes of Frozen Shoulder

The exact cause of frozen shoulder is not always known, but it can be associated with various factors, including:

  • Injury or trauma to the shoulder

  • Prolonged immobilisation of the shoulder, such as after surgery or an injury

  • Certain medical conditions, such as diabetes

  • Autoimmune diseases

  • Hormonal imbalances

Treatment of Frozen Shoulder

Physiotherapy treatment is typically an integral part of managing frozen shoulder, combining with pain management and, when necessary, injections. In some cases, a doctor may recommend more invasive treatments, such as manipulation under anesthesia or surgical release of the joint capsule, to improve shoulder mobility.

Recovery from frozen shoulder can be slow and may take several months to years. It's essential to work closely with a healthcare professional to develop a personalised treatment plan and manage the symptoms effectively.

Body Fit Physiotherapy

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