What Is Frozen Shoulder?

Frozen shoulder or adhesive capsulitis is a condition that causes stiffness and pain in your shoulder joint. It can take anywhere from one to three years before it goes away. It mainly affects people between 40 to 60 years and causes intense pain that tends to worsen over time.

 

Anatomy of the Shoulder

 

The shoulder’s range of motion is wide and varies more than any other part of the body. It pivots on the glenohumeral joint in a ball and socket arrangement. The joint allows the shoulder to move forward, backward, rotates it, and extends outward. The synovial fluid protects the joint and keeps it moving smoothly.

 

Ligaments, tendons, and muscles stabilize the shoulder and control its movements. The elaborate structure of the shoulder accounts for its flexibility. At the same time, this makes it vulnerable to trauma, wear, and tear.

 

Causes of Frozen Shoulder

 

The cause of the condition is not clear. However, it involves inflammation of the tissues surrounding the joint. The tissue has folds that can expand and contract as the arm moves in various positions. When inflammation kicks in, scarring develops. These adhesions tighten and restrict movement in this joint—hence the term adhesive capsulitis.

 

Immobilizing the shoulder for a long time due to injury, illness, or surgery can result in a frozen shoulder. Inflammation of tendons and muscles can also be a cause. Fortunately, you can unfreeze your shoulder and work to full recovery. However, it will take time and lots of help.

 

How Does It Happen?

 

It starts with an injury or inflammation of the soft tissues. These may happen due to overuse, leading to bursitis or tendinitis. Inflammation will cause pain that worsens when you move, limiting the shoulder’s range of motion. When your shoulder cannot move, the connective tissue around the glenohumeral joint thickens and contracts. It loses its usual capacity to stretch.

 

Trying to avoid the pain you feel when you move your shoulder leads to further restriction of movement. The humerus has less space to maneuver and may lose the lubricating synovial fluid. In worse scenarios, bands of scar tissue form between the humerus head and joint capsule. The condition may take two to nine months to develop. However, the pain may slowly decrease, although stiffness and restriction to the range of motion may continue.

 

Symptoms

 

The symptoms of the frozen shoulder make it hard to go about your daily activities. Simple tasks like combing your hair and putting away dishes become taxing. You may also find it difficult to reach behind your back and put on a belt. These symptoms include:
 

  • Limited range of motion in the shoulder joint.
  • Dull aching pain throughout the shoulder radiates up the arm.
  • Small movements trigger pain.

 

Stages

 

The symptoms are not due to weakness but rigidity in the shoulder joint. If someone else tries to lift your arm, they cannot. The typical progression is in three stages.

 

  • Freezing stage: The restriction and pain begin.
  • Frozen stage: Limitation of motion.
  • Thawing stage: The shoulder starts to loosen up.

 

 

The thawing stage can take years. However, some treatments can speed up the process.

 

For more information on frozen shoulder, call Pain and Laser Centers of North Carolina at (336) 815-5800 to reach our office in Greensboro, North Carolina.

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