Frozen Shoulder: What is it, and is it treatable without surgery?

Picture this. You awake in the morning with severe pain in your shoulder, but with no idea how it could have gotten injured.  You get out of bed, gingerly, but your arm is nearly immobilized at the shoulder. Try as you might, you just can’t move your arm. What could have happened?

One of the reasons for these symptoms could be frozen shoulder, also known as adhesive capsulitis. Frozen shoulder occurs when inflammation of the joint lining causes scar tissue to form around the joint, restricting movement.

Frozen shoulder can happen to anyone at any age, but about 70% of people with frozen shoulder are women and most people are between the ages of 40 and 70. No one really knows what causes it, but there are certain factors that seem to put some people at greater risk for frozen shoulder. In addition to your age and sex, you may be more at risk if you have:

  • Diabetes
  • Overactive or underactive thyroid
  • Cardiovascular disease

You also may be at greater risk if your mobility has been affected by a previous shoulder injury, broken arm or stroke—or if you’ve had heart surgery, chest or breast surgery, or surgery on your carotid arteries or neck.

The three stages of frozen shoulder

Frozen shoulder usually develops and progresses through three stages, each of which can last several months.

  1. Freezing Stage. At this point, any movement of your arm or shoulder causes pain and your range of motion is limited. The pain slowly becomes worse and it may hurt more at night.
  2. Frozen, or Adhesive Stage. You may have less pain at this stage, but your shoulder may become stiffer and more difficult to use. It may become more difficult for you to perform everyday activities.
  3. Thawing, or Recovery Stage. Range of motion actually begins to improve. Reaching this stage can take from six months to two years—if it heals on its own.

While frozen shoulder can improve on its own in some cases, you may not want or be able to function through the pain and immobility. And it can last for up to ten years.  If your symptoms don’t improve or get worse, it’s time to see a physician.

Treating frozen shoulder.

At Coastal Orthopedics, we have a number of ways to treat the pain and immobility of frozen shoulder. We like to start with the least invasive methods, progressing to surgery only when necessary.

Your treatment may begin with over-the-counter non nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like aspirin or ibuprofen to help relieve the pain and inflammation in your shoulder. Physical therapy is often prescribed to help improve your range of motion.

If your symptoms don’t improve after a time, we may recommend additional treatments such as corticosteroid injections, joint distension (injecting sterile water into the joint to help stretch the tissue) or shoulder manipulation.

If no improvement is noted with physical therapy or injections, surgery is a reasonable option. Often, manipulation of the joint under anesthesia or a nerve black and sedation can be performed, providing significant relief. If the manipulations is unsuccessful, an arthoscopic capsular release is recommended.

If you’ve been experiencing any of the symptoms of frozen shoulder, give us a call at 941-792-1404 or request an appointment here. We’ll get you moving again!