Is your shoulder stiff and painful? Are your shoulder movements significantly lessened or feeling more reduced than normal? You could potentially be suffering from a condition called ‘frozen shoulder’. In many cases of this condition, an individual’s shoulder can completely freeze, allowing no range of movement whatsoever. Without proper treatment, symptoms can take up to 3 years to go away naturally. Luckily, there are various treatments that can ease the pain and improve manoeuvrability.

What Are The Symptoms Of Frozen Shoulder?

Management of the Frozen Shoulder - Physio Leeds

The most apparent symptoms of frozen shoulder are pain and stiffness. This limits the range of movement in your arms, shoulders and back. As with anything that is frozen, a frozen shoulder occurs in three typical stages. The first stage is the painful stage where your shoulder begins to freeze up. This can last anywhere between 2 months and the best part of a year. Stiffness will gradually increase during this time period, like water turning to ice.

The second phase is when your shoulder is completely frozen. Again, this can last up to a year but may go away after a few months. The pain will ease off slightly during this stage, but your shoulder will be at its most rigid state. Your limitation in movement can become worse, affecting all possible movements of the shoulder joint. During this time, muscles around the shoulder could deteriorate due to lack of use.

Finally, the third phase is the ‘thawing’ recovery phase. Just like melting ice, your shoulder will begin to thaw out. This phase can last anywhere between 1-3 years, during which your pain and stiffness will begin to ease off. Normal, or near-normal, levels of movement will start to come back and your shoulder will start to recover.

Causes and Common Sufferers

Frozen shoulder is believed to be caused by scar-like tissues forming in the shoulder capsule. However, this is not a concrete cause as we are still not completely clear what causes this condition. It can occur after a sporting injury or all by itself – no one truly knows why! The level of severity will vary per person, as will the length of time that symptoms persists. This can be anything from under a year to almost half-a-decade, the latter of which happens in a minority of cases.

The condition affects around 3% of adults in the UK and most commonly occurs in people between the ages of 40 and 65. More women suffer than men and those with diabetes can commonly suffer from frozen shoulder. Either shoulder can be affected too, but more often than not it is the least-dominant one that suffers. Around 1 in 5 cases show problems in both shoulders, but very rarely at the same time.

How Do You Test for Frozen Shoulder?

A Physiotherapists examination will usually diagnose frozen shoulder, together with the use of an X-ray or MRI scan. However, these procedures are only required if the diagnosis is unclear. Most of the time, your Physiotherapist  will be able to identify frozen shoulder through obvious lack of movement and related symptoms.

How Do You Treat Frozen Shoulder?

Treatment and management of the frozen shoulder condition will vary from person to person. This will depend on what stage you are at and the severity of your pain. Symptoms may get better over time without any treatment, but this recovery process can be slow and debilitating. Early stage treatments focus mainly on pain relief with the administration of pain killers, in tablet or injected form. It is important to prevent too much movement in the shoulder during this stage, but without keeping it totally still. Exercise is important during the recovery process to maintain muscle strength etc.

In fact, exercise will be the main drive of your recovery process after this, moving into stage two and three. You may be referred to a physiotherapist to maintain mobility within the joint. Avoiding using your shoulder completely could make the stiffness worse, so continue to use it as normal! Delicate massage, acupuncture – and in severe cases – surgery have all been known to alleviate the stiffness caused by frozen shoulder.