Adhesive Capsulitis, or “Frozen Shoulder” is a common diagnosis treated in Physical Therapy clinics. But what is frozen shoulder? Many people recognize this term but may not fully understand what is meant by that diagnosis. Frozen shoulder is a painful and stiff shoulder that has an unknown cause. Sometimes the onset of frozen shoulder is preceded by trauma or immobilization, but occasionally people develop frozen shoulder with no preceding incident. Are you more at risk for developing frozen shoulder as you age? Actually, frozen shoulder is most common in women ages 40-60 and typically affects the non-dominant arm. However, you can still develop frozen shoulder if you do not fall into that category.
The normal progression of frozen shoulder is the onset of pain that is not relieved by rest. Even sleeping can be a challenge because of the pain. As the condition progresses, pain with movement becomes the primary complaint. When movement becomes painful, most people tend to stop using that arm and compensate by only using the other arm. Disuse of the painful arm can cause the shoulder muscles to weaken and you can lose your full range of motion. Most of the pain typically presents itself over the deltoid muscle, which can be felt by placing your hand right over the shoulder.
What do I need to do to find out if I have frozen shoulder? Doctors can perform x-rays on the joint to rule out other conditions, but x-rays alone cannot tell if you have frozen shoulder. The symptoms of frozen shoulder combined with ruling out other conditions is usually enough for a diagnosis. Is surgery my next step? Actually, most cases of frozen shoulder can be cured by physical therapy. Surgery may be recommended in a few rare cases, but typically only after trying physical therapy first.
How does physical therapy help? By using a variety of physical therapy techniques, including manual therapy, ultrasound, and a progressive exercise plan, physical therapy can help reduce pain, increase range of motion, and increase strength. Frozen shoulder rehab is typically a slow process, but with patience and hard work it is worth avoiding the trauma of surgery.