What Is Frozen Shoulder?

The medical name for the shoulder condition commonly known as frozen shoulder is adhesive capsulitis. It’s characterized by pain and stiffness that builds up gradually over the course of months or even years. There are a few things that raise your risk of developing a frozen shoulder, including:

There are three stages of frozen shoulder: the freezing stage, the frozen stage, and the thawing stage. It may take as long as one to three years for you to feel better, and in some cases, the condition does not resolve without surgery.

Freezing

Your shoulder is a ball-and-socket joint made up of three bones. Your upper arm, shoulder blade, and collarbone form the shoulder joint and are surrounded by a connective tissue that holds them all together. That connective tissue is called the shoulder capsule, and everything moves smoothly thanks to a lubricant called synovial fluid.

During the freezing stage of frozen shoulder, the capsule thickens and becomes tight around the bones of your shoulder joint. Scar tissue forms in bands, and there’s less synovial fluid. As this process happens, you find it more difficult to move your arm.

The freezing stage is characterized by a dull ache in your shoulder, possibly pain in the muscles around your shoulder, and increasing difficulty moving your shoulder. This stage usually lasts from six to nine months.

Frozen

Once the shoulder capsule has thickened and is banded by scar tissue and less synovial fluid is being produced, you may find that you have less pain, but also less mobility. You may have difficulty doing simple day-to-day tasks like getting dressed.

The frozen stage may last four months to a year and can be frustrating and scary.

Thawing

Just as you might expect, during the thawing stage, the muscles and tissues of your shoulder joint begin to loosen, and you slowly regain your range of motion. This stage can last anywhere from six months to two years.

Frozen shoulder treatment

After evaluating your situation, Dr. Struan Coleman chooses from a range of treatments to help ease the pain of frozen shoulder. He may suggest you take over-the-counter pain relievers, or he may prescribe a medication to relieve your pain. In some cases, physical therapy to help stretch and strengthen your shoulder is helpful.

Sometimes corticosteroid injections can help reduce pain due to frozen shoulder. In other cases, surgery may be necessary.

When surgery is the best treatment, Dr. Coleman generally recommends a minimally invasive procedure called arthroscopy. Arthroscopy involves very small incisions through which he can diagnose the extent of any scarring or damage to your shoulder.

Arthroscopic surgery carries less risk than traditional open surgery and requires less recovery time. Most people are able to go home within hours and don’t require a lengthy hospital stay.

If you have shoulder pain that seems to be getting worse, book an appointment online or by phone with Dr. Coleman to determine the cause. If you have a frozen shoulder, you have treatment options.

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