What is Frozen Shoulder?

People who have a frozen shoulder know it. Lower back pain and neck pain can also be associated. The pain can be unbearable and it’s felt doing the simplest of tasks, such as grabbing a plate overhead from a kitchen cabinet. Understanding what frozen shoulder is, how it’s diagnosed, and treatment options can help you get the relief you need.

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About Frozen Shoulder

Frozen shoulder, also known as adhesive capsulitis, is when the connective tissue in the shoulder joint capsule becomes inflamed. Pain and stiffness in the shoulder are what many sufferers experience when they have a frozen shoulder. The pain and limited mobility can interfere in doing daily tasks, such as dressing, taking a shower, even brushing teeth. Getting through the workday can be nearly impossible, especially for people with jobs requiring physical activity. The worst pain is felt when:

  • Reaching overhead
  • Reaching across the chest
  • Rotating the arm from front to back

When most people feel the pain of a frozen shoulder, they call a doctor immediately for relief because they believe something must be horribly wrong.

Adhesive Capsulitis Treatment Philosophy

ACN Wellness is a holistic and integrative medicine office in Vienna, Virginia. We seek to understand the conditions surrounding why a shoulder is frozen. Medical conditions such as diabetes, stress, poor sleep, poor diet, vitamin deficiencies and allergies can all increase risk. Dr. Viet Le will take a look at your conditions and examine your history. ACN uses a mixture of mainstream treatments as well as alternative modalities to relieve shoulder problems. Including: Chiropractics, Class IV laser treatments, dry needling, nutrition and more.

How Does Adhesive Capsulitis Happen?

While it’s not fully understood how frozen should happen, the chances of someone getting it after an injury such as a rotator cuff tear or bone fracture are high. What’s interesting is that it doesn’t only follow shoulder injuries and surgeries, it can also happen after other surgeries, such as heart or brain surgery.

The risk of adhesive capsulitis is also high in people with certain diseases and conditions. For example, people with diabetes have an increased risk of suffering from frozen shoulder – 10 to 20 percent of diabetics develop the condition.

Other risk factors for the condition include:

  • Past History of Stroke
  • Parkinson’s Disease
  • Antiretroviral Medication Users
  • Long-Term Immobilization
  • Thyroid Disease

Despite the uncertainties surrounding the condition, what is known about it is the shoulder joint becomes inflamed and develops scar tissue. As scar tissue builds, the joint shrinks and hardens, which leads to limited mobility in the shoulder.

Symptoms of Frozen Shoulder

There are two symptoms of adhesive capsulitis, but don’t let that sway you into thinking it’s not a serious condition. Over time, shoulder pain becomes unbearable to the point of not being able to move it. Stiffness can make it even more difficult to move.

This condition starts slowly with mild pain and a small amount of stiffness. As time goes on, it starts to become more painful and stiff. Medical professionals report there are three phases of the condition’s symptoms.

Phase 1:
This phase lasts two to nine months. Shoulder pain is worse at night and can be debilitating. The shoulder becomes increasingly stiff as people move through this phase of the condition.

Phase 2:
The timeline for this phase is four to 12 months. The shoulder becomes stiffer, but fortunately, the pain lessens.

Phase 3:
The last phase is the recovery. It can last up to two years. As people go through this phase, the pain subsides and the shoulder’s range of motion increases.

The reason the condition is called frozen shoulder is that the phases are often referred to as freezing, frozen and thawing. To progress through the phases, it’s a good idea to release the frozen shoulder.

How to Release a Frozen Shoulder?

Frozen shoulder treatment consists of relieving pain and restoring the range of motion of the shoulder. The first step is taking an anti-inflammatory medication, such as ibuprofen, naproxen, etc. A shoulder ice pack will help relieve some of the inflammation and soreness as well. For stubborn inflammation, a corticosteroid injection may be administered into the joint or soft tissues.

Physical therapy is the primary treatment along with a possible chiropractic adjustment. Exercises that stretch the joint capsule is most important. A physical therapist or chiropractor can help you gauge how far you should be stretching your shoulder so that it is effective in releasing the shoulder. With regular therapy appointments, 90% of people improve without surgery.

As you’re increasing your strength with the exercises the therapist is teaching you, it’s important not to do anything that could result in injuring your shoulder. This means you should avoid reaching overhead, lifting heavy, or doing anything that could make the pain worse.

Adhesive Capsulitis Stretching Exercises

Stretching exercises are the best ways to heal a frozen shoulder. Start by warming up your shoulder. You can do this by taking a warm shower for about 10 minutes. You can also use a moist heating pad or damp towel that’s been heated in the microwave. When your shoulder isn’t too stiff, you can begin the following exercises.

Pendulum Stretch
Bend slightly at the waist and hand your arm down by your side. Hold on to a table next to you if needed. Start slowly moving your arm in a circle. Go around clockwise 10 times. The circle should be about a foot in diameter.
Do this exercise once a day. After about a week, try increasing the diameter. Never force your arm to swing wider than it will go or you may injure it. You will be able to feel when you’ve hit your max extension.
As you gain more mobility, you can start holding light weight in the arm you’re swinging. Two or three pounds is sufficient.

Towel Stretch
You will need a towel that’s three feet long. Hold each end of the towel behind your back. You should hold it in a horizontal position. Use the unaffected arm to stretch the affected one behind your back. Stretch 10 to 20 times once a day.

Cross-Body Reach
You can do this exercise sitting or standing. Bring your affected arm across your chest and use the other hand to bring the arm closer to your chest. Hold the stretch up to 20 seconds and release. You should do this up to 20 times a day.

Armpit Stretch
Place the affected arm onto a shelf that’s about as high as your chest. Bend at the knees if you need to, and then bend down lower to stretch the affected arm at the armpit. Straighten your legs and then bend at the knees again. Never force the stretches. Do this up to 20 times a day once a day.

Advanced Stretches
Rotator cuff exercises can increase mobility greatly, but do not do them before you’re ready.

Outward Rotation
Hold a stretch band between your hands with your elbows at a 90-degree angle. Rotate the lower part of your arm outward, hold it, and bring it back. You can do this 10 times a day once a day.

Inward Rotation
Put one end of a stretch band on a doorknob and grab the other side of the band. Bend your elbow at a 90-degree angle. Pull the band towards your body, hold it, and then let it go. Repeat it 15 times once a day.

How to Prevent a Repeat Frozen Shoulder

The exercises above should be performed consistently to prevent frozen shoulder from reoccurring again. It’s also important to reduce the inflammation in the shoulder joint so that it doesn’t produce scar tissue, which is what leads to frozen shoulder.

The good news is that a frozen shoulder usually get better with time, so as long as you continue to protect the shoulder from injury and exercise it, your chances of recurrence are low.
If you’re suffering from a frozen shoulder and want to learn how you can release it with proven conventional, natural, and alternative modalities, contact Dr. Viet Le and Jing Cao today for a consultation.