Understanding The Icy Grip of Frozen Shoulder

min read


The Sports Injury Clinic

Jake Sugarman

July 31, 2023


Have you ever experienced a shoulder so stiff that moving it feels impossible? If so, you might be familiar with frozen shoulder. This mysterious condition can bring pain and stiffness, making even simple tasks challenging. In this article, we will delve into the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, demographics most likely to be affected, and treatment modalities for frozen shoulder. So, let's unravel the secrets behind this perplexing condition!

The Chilling Causes:

Frozen shoulder seems to emerge out of nowhere, but there are several known factors that can contribute to its development. Prolonged immobilization of the shoulder joint, such as after an injury, surgery, or stroke, is a common trigger. Certain medical conditions like diabetes, thyroid disorders, and heart disease can also increase the risk. Shoulder injuries, including tears in the rotator cuff, can lead to frozen shoulder as well. It's like the perfect storm of circumstances that freeze up the shoulder joint.

Common Symptoms:

The symptoms of frozen shoulder can be quite distinctive. It usually progresses through three stages, each with its own characteristics. First comes the freezing stage, where you'll experience gradual shoulder pain and increasing stiffness, often worse at night. Then, in the frozen stage, the shoulder becomes even more rigid, and the pain may subside, but mobility becomes severely limited. Finally, in the thawing stage, the range of motion gradually improves, and the pain subsides. It's like a slow, icy dance from pain to recovery.

Demographics at Risk:

Frozen shoulder tends to strike individuals between the ages of 40 and 60, and affects between 2-5 percent of people. Women are more likely to find themselves in the chilly embrace of this condition. If you have diabetes, thyroid disorders, or a history of shoulder injuries, you're at a higher risk of being affected. But don't worry; being aware of these factors can help you navigate frozen shoulder more effectively.


The Unfreezing Process: To properly diagnose frozen shoulder, a healthcare professional will take your medical history, ask about your symptoms, and inquire about any previous injuries or medical conditions. They will then conduct a physical examination to assess your shoulder's range of motion, looking for limitations and signs of pain. They will also look at things like your age and spontaneous appearance of pain as potential indicators of frozen shoulder. In some cases, imaging tests like X-rays or MRI scans maybe ordered to rule out other shoulder conditions and confirm the diagnosis of frozen shoulder. Diagnosis can be tricky, with conditions such as arthritis or tendinopathy often presenting with similar symptoms. US surgeon, Ernest Codman, who coined the term ‘frozen shoulder’, is famed for saying 90 years ago that it is “difficult to define, difficult to treat, and difficult to explain”. This still rings true today!


Thawing the Stiffness: The good news is that there are treatment options available to help you thaw out that frozen shoulder. In the vast majority of cases, the pain inexplicably dissipates and never returns. Physical therapy plays a crucial role in improving shoulder mobility and reducing pain. A skilled physiotherapist will design a personalized exercise program that may include stretching, range-of-motion exercises, and manual therapy techniques. Frequent, tolerable movement is essential for avoiding secondary soft tissue tightening. Medications like nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or corticosteroid injections can provide relief from pain and reduce inflammation. Heat and cold therapy, such as applying heat packs or cold packs, can also alleviate discomfort. In some cases, joint distension, where sterile fluid is injected into the shoulder joint, may be performed to help stretch the tight capsule. Surgery is considered a last resort when other treatments have been unsuccessful.

Bringing it all together:

Frozen shoulder may seem like an enigma, but with a deeper understanding of its causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and available treatment modalities, you can begin to navigate the challenges of its chilling grip with greater confidence. If you suspect you're experiencing frozen shoulder symptoms, don't hesitate to reach out to a healthcare professional. They will guide you on the path towards relief and recovery, helping you thaw that frozen shoulder and regain the freedom of pain-free shoulder movement. And remember, with the right knowledge and support by your side, even the most frigid conditions can be thawed away.


If you or someone you know is struggling with the iciness of a frozen shoulder, come in and see one of our Physiotherapists. Call us on 97839990 or book online.


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