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Orthopedic Surgery

Frozen shoulder, also known as adhesive capsulitis, is a condition that is characterized by a stiff and painful shoulder that persists for months, sometimes even years. The condition is often treated with shoulder exercises and pain medications.

The likelihood of acquiring frozen shoulder increases when a shoulder is kept immobile for an extended period of time especially after having surgery or breaking an arm.

Causes of Frozen Shoulder

It is still not yet known what the exact causes of a frozen shoulder are. However, it is typically known to occur after keeping a shoulder still for a long period, for instance after surgery or a fracture.

The shoulder joint is protected by a connective tissue capsule. When this capsule around the shoulder joint becomes thicker and tighter, limiting movement, it results in the occurrence of a frozen shoulder.

Frozen shoulder seems to be more common in individuals with certain systemic diseases which may include:

  • Underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism)
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Diabetes
  • Overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism)

Symptoms of a Frozen Shoulder

  • Pain and stiffness
  • Dull or archy pain in one of the shoulders
  • Pain in the shoulder muscles
  • Pain that worsens at night making it difficult to sleep well

Phases of Frozen Shoulder

  1. Freezing stage:
  • An individual develops pain any time he/she moves it
  • The pain gradually gets intense and may hurt more at night
  • This pain can persist anywhere from six to nine months
  • Limited range of motion on the shoulder
  1. Frozen stage:
  • Pain gets better but stiffness worsens
  • Difficulty in shoulder movement
  • This stage may last between 4 and 12 months
  1. Thawing stage:
  • One begins to regain his/her range of motion
  • It could take anywhere from six months to two years

Diagnosis of a Frozen Shoulder

To diagnose a frozen shoulder, the doctor will conduct a physical exam to check how badly the shoulder is hurt and how far it moves. The patient may be asked to move the shoulder on his/her own.

As much as a physical exam can be enough to diagnose a frozen shoulder, the doctor may also order imaging tests such as X-rays, ultrasound, or MRI to rule out other issues like arthritis which is also known to cause symptoms like pain and limited range of motion on the shoulder.

Treatment of Frozen Shoulder

Doctors may recommend over the counter (OTC) nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication such as aspirin or ibuprofen to relieve pain and inflammation in the shoulder. Stronger medication may be recommended if these won’t work effectively.

Physical therapy may also be included in the treatment plan whereby an individual will need to go to the physical therapist for strengthening and stretching exercises to improve the range of motion.


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