Frozen shoulder is a painful condition that affects the range of movement of the shoulders due to stiffness. The condition can make the shoulders partially or completely immovable. It is commonly seen in people between 40 to 65 years of age.
The exact cause of the condition is still unknown. However, it is thought that certain situations make the tissues in the shoulder joint susceptible to damage and develop into scar tissues. The shoulder joint slowly starts deteriorating over a period of time, limiting the movement of the shoulder.
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According to orthopedician Dr Shailendra Patil, the risk of developing the condition is greater in:
The risk also increases as you grow older and develop other chronic diseases. People suffering from thyroid problems and cervical disc disease of the neck are also at risk.
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While pain, constant stiffness and reduced range of movement are the main symptoms of the condition, you should keep an eye on its early signs that gradually worsen over a period of years. Frozen shoulder is divided into 3 phases where the intensity of the key symptoms varies.
Phase 1 or the freezing phase: This is the initial phase, where you may experience intermittent pain in the shoulder region. It may last for 3-8 months. Stiffness will start developing gradually. The pain may worsen at night. Could you be suffering from repetitive strain injury (RSI) at your workplace?
Phase 2 or the frozen phase: It is also called the ‘adhesive phase’ and may last for about 4-12 months. Without movement, stiffness increases and the shoulder muscle also starts getting affected.
Phase 3 or the thawing phase: It is also called the ‘resolution phase’ and may last for about 12-42 months. This phase arrives with proper treatment and care. In this phase, shoulder mobility gradually improves and the shoulder joint slowly regains its function. Here's everything you should know about shin splints.
Without proper treatment at the right time, the condition can worsen to the extent that it interferes with daily activities of the patients. ‘One should visit the doctor when mild pain does not improve with time or worsens. Also, if the limited range of motion is affecting your daily activities, you should see the doctor,’ says Dr Patil.
The doctor will first examine your shoulder for range of motion and stiffness. An X-ray is recommended in case you’re not able to move your shoulder, to rule out arthritis. MRI scans may be needed to detect inflammation and formation of scar tissue.
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‘Frozen shoulder can be cured completely. There are so many treatment options like surgery, medication and physiotherapy available now-a-days and these options vary depending on the condition and symptoms of the patient,’ says Dr Patil. Here are some treatment options -
- Medications: Pain killers like nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) and steroid injections can reduce pain. Medication along with physical therapy can improve the condition greatly. However, you should stop taking too many painkillers.
- Ice pack: To get symptomatic relief from pain, you can try applying an ice pack on the affected area. Dr Jahnavi Acharya, consultant physiotherapist at Revival Bone and Joint Hospital says, ‘if the pain is acute or has recently started, ice packs can be helpful. But, if pain exists over a month, then heat pads are more effective.’
- MUA or manipulation under anesthesia: It is a technique used to improve the range of movement in the joint. But, there’s a risk of dislocation and fracture. Here are all your queries on general anaesthesia and surgery answered.
- Surgery or arthroscopy: In this treatment option, the scar tissue from the shoulder joint is surgically removed to allow full range of motion. After surgery, physical therapy is used to improve the condition.
- Diabetes control: People with diabetes need to be careful and regulate blood sugar levels to prevent the condition from worsening.
- Physiotherapy: Recovery of frozen shoulder is a gradual process, so you need to patient while undergoing treatment, especially physiotherapy. Your physiotherapist will teach you a few exercises depending on the mobility of your shoulder joint. Read about how physiotherapy works?
A simple exercise for keeping your shoulder joint active
- Allow your affected arm to loosely hang by your side.
- Now, slowly make very small circles with your arm (keeping the wrist straight and the arm hanging).
- Your arm should swing like a pendulum.
- Go clockwise for a while – and then anti-clockwise.
- Do this for two minutes. Repeat this exercise two to three times a day.
You may also like to read about yoga poses/asanas for upper body strength.
According to Dr Patil following few tips can help prevent the condition as well as slow down its progression. These include -
The content has been verified by
Dr Shailendra Patil, Joint Replacement Surgeon at Wockhardt hospital, Vashi.