Best Options for Dealing with a Frozen Shoulder

Jun 2, 2021

It can be common to sleep in an odd position and wake up with a shoulder that is painful or stiff for a few days until your body has readjusted. But when this isn’t temporary and your shoulder slowly becomes more stiff, or even immobile, it may actually be a condition called frozen shoulder. In frozen shoulder, pain and stiffness in the shoulder worsens over the course of time and may be stiff for months or even years. While the condition usually resolves at some point, visiting a Marietta orthopedics clinic can help reduce pain and speed up healing.

About Frozen Shoulders

Frozen shoulder is a common term for the medical condition adhesive capsulitis, a stiffening of the shoulder caused by scar tissue. The actual reason that frozen shoulder occurs is a matter of debate, as some people think inflammation leads to scar tissue forming, while others classify it as an autoimmune reaction.

The shoulder is a ball and socket joint made up of three bones: the upper arm (humerus), the shoulder blade, and the collarbone. The top of your arm bone fits into a shallow socket that sits on the shoulder blade, surrounded by a strong connective tissue called the shoulder capsule. The joint and capsule are lubricated by synovial fluid that facilitates easy and painless movement. Whatever the cause, adhesive capsulitis occurs when this capsule thickens and becomes stiff and tight. Thick bands of tissue called adhesions develop, reducing fluid and limiting motion.

A frozen shoulder is usually brought on by another medical event, like a surgery, injury, or illness. Anything that causes a person to suddenly stop using their shoulder or immobilize their arm can lead to this problem developing, though there is sometimes no obvious event that causes the condition.

Stages of a Frozen Shoulder

One of the hallmarks of a frozen shoulder is pain and immobility that worsens over time, typically years. This occurs in four stages- the stage of your condition may determine the treatment a Marietta orthopedics clinic recommends.

Stage 1: Prefreezing

In this stage, you may not identify the symptoms of a cold shoulder, though they’ve been present for one to three months and are escalating. Movement can cause pain and stillness may cause aching, and motion limits are just kicking in. Pain is the most common symptom at this stage, at both day and night.

Stage 2: Freezing

At this stage, you have begun to notice a progressive loss of range of motion and an increase in pain, particularly at night. The shoulder still has some range of motion now, but it is limited both by pain and by stiffness.

Stage 3: Frozen

At this point, range of motion is significantly limited if not nearly gone. The early part of this stage has a lot of pain associated with it, but it begins to decrease over time and is only present when the shoulder is moved.

Stage 4: Thawing

After a big decrease in pain, your ability to move may begin to reappear. Frozen shoulder is a unique condition in that it is characterized by a recovery in almost all cases, and thawing is the start of that.

Treating a Frozen Shoulder

While the condition usually clears up eventually, most people with a frozen shoulder will turn to a professional, like a Marietta orthopedic clinic, for help managing symptoms and ensuring recovery. Doctors can provide a range of treatments.

Medications are often used to reduce pain and inflammation. In most cases, over-the-counter pain relievers like aspirin or ibuprofen are sufficient to do this, though doctors may also prescribe stronger options in severe cases. This medication is not meant to address the root cause of your pain but may help you to move more easily.

You may also work with a physical therapist to practice exercises that increase range of motion, with the goal of maintaining as much mobility in the shoulder as possible. If these exercises are painful, medication may be used to allow you to complete them with less pain. These exercises will likely continue at home and require your commitment to treatment.

When frozen shoulders do not heal after about 12 to 18 months, they are considered persistent and your doctor may investigate more invasive treatments. Steroid injections for pain, joint distension, and shoulder manipulation are all common. If nothing helps, surgery may be explored.

Marietta Orthopedics for Frozen Shoulder

If you think you are at any stage in a frozen shoulder, AICA Marietta is here to help. Our comprehensive approach to treatment will allow you to manage pain while working towards a full recovery and use of your arm- contact us today to get started!