Putting the Freeze on Frozen Shoulder

If you are not dressed for cold, winter weather, after a while you are likely to start feeling numb and stiff. It’s hard to move frozen fingers and toes—imagine if that’s how your shoulder felt! Frozen shoulder, also called adhesive capsulitis, is a condition characterized by symptoms of pain, stiffness, and an increasing inability to move over time.

Shoulder Pain in Cold WeatherThe Cold Hard Facts

Your shoulder is a ball and socket joint surrounded by strong connective tissue called the shoulder capsule. Synovial fluid lubricates this capsule and the joint, allowing it to move easily. Frozen shoulder occurs when the capsule thickens and tightens, causing dense bands of tissue (adhesions) to develop. Often times, the synovial fluid is reduced as well. This results in a painful, stiff shoulder that is extremely difficult to move. The condition develops slowly and in three stages, each lasting several months:

  • Freezing—The first 6 weeks to 9 months, shoulder pain will slowly increase, inhibiting range of motion.

  • Frozen—The next 4 to 6 months, pain may diminish, but stiffness will not, limiting mobility even more.

  • Thawing—Motion slowly improves during this stage with a return to normal or near normal range of motion and strength after a period of 6 months to 2 years.

A Melting Pot of Culprits

Causes of this condition are not fully understood, although there are thought to be some risk factors associated with it. Prolonged immobility, such as in the case of post-surgery or fracture recovery, can contribute to the development of frozen shoulder. It is recommended that some movement take place during this time to avoid the possibility of adhesive capsulitis occurring.

You may also be predisposed to the problem due to underlying conditions like diabetes, thyroid issues, tuberculosis, cardiovascular disease, and Parkinson’s disease. In addition, women over 40 tend to develop the condition most often.

Brrrr-inging an End to the Pain

While anti-inflammatory medication or steroid injections can help to control shoulder pain, physical therapy is key to restoring strength and motion. Sometimes heat may be applied to the shoulder to loosen it up prior to stretching. Some exercises that may be recommended include:

  • External Rotation—Stand in a doorway, placing the hand of your affected shoulder on the doorjamb. Slowly rotate your body to face away from the door while keeping your hand in place. Hold and repeat.

  • Forward Flexion—Lie on the floor with legs straight. With the help of your good arm, lift your affected arm overhead and hold until you feel a stretch, then repeat.

  • Crossover Stretch—Gently pull your arm across your chest and hold in place.

If your symptoms are not relieved, surgery may need to be considered to remove scar tissue and adhesions, or to stretch and release the stiffened capsule.

If you have a stiff shoulder, don’t be left out in the cold! Get to Castle Pines Physical Therapy. Dr. Jennifer Molner will help you get your frozen shoulder moving, and feeling as good as hot cocoa tastes on a cold, winter day! Call (303) 805-5156 or visit us at our Castle Pines, CO office.

Photo Credit: Tina Phillips via FreeDigitalPhotos.net