Frozen shoulder (Adhesive Capsulitis) is a condition that develops slowly and can easily be confused for other shoulder conditions in the early stage. It is characterised by a stiff shoulder and can be significantly painful and hard to find positions of comfort particularly when trying to sleep. Most commonly the earliest stiffening of the shoulder will be with rotational movements such as placing your hand behind your back or behind your head.
Frozen shoulder occurs through three phases:
1. Freezing as you lose range of motion and is usually the most painful
2. Frozen as your shoulder is quite stiff but usually less painful
3. Thawing as you begin to increase your range of motion.
The condition can last anywhere from 6 months to 3 years from initial onset to complete resolution and those with thyroid conditions or diabetes are thought to be more likely to develop this condition and have a prolonged recovery period. Frozen shoulder is up to three times more common in women and predominantly affects the 40-60 age group.
The reasons why this condition occurs are not clear although it does appear more likely to occur if your shoulder has been immobilised due to other injuries or surgery. The reason the shoulder begins the stiffen up is a disease process around the shoulder joint (which may be inflammatory) causes the connective tissue to begin developing extra tissue beyond normal levels causing it to thicken and adhere around the joint reducing movement.
Early recognition can be a significant factor in reducing the time course of this condition and your GP and physiotherapist will be key in assistance through managing this condition. Your GP might prescribe some oral anti inflammatory medications and potentially an injection into the shoulder (glenohumeral joint) with cortisone and your physiotherapist can assist you with exercises to maintain as much strength and range of motion as possible throughout the process.
If you have symptoms of shoulder pain or stiffness that don’t seem to resolve or ease, consult with your healthcare practitioner to determine the cause of your pain and the appropriate next steps.