Atlas, a famous figure in Greek mythology, is known for being “condemned to hold up the celestial heavens for eternity.” It’s easy to imagine him suffering from frozen shoulder, a condition also known as adhesive capsulitis. Frozen shoulder occurs when the capsule of connective tissue encasing the shoulder joint thickens and tightens, limiting the ability to move.
The 3 Stages of Frozen Shoulder
Frozen shoulder occurs in three stages, each with varying levels of pain and stiffness. It can take up to three years to completely recover from frozen shoulder.
Stage 1: Freezing
In this stage, which usually lasts from six weeks to nine months, the pain slowly worsens over time and your shoulder loses range of motion.
Stage 2: Frozen
You may actually feel less pain in this stage, but the lingering stiffness can make daily activities a challenge. The “frozen” stage lasts four to six months.
Stage 3: Thawing
Your shoulder’s ability to move slowly improves during this stage. It takes anywhere from six months to two years to regain your normal strength and motion.
What Causes Frozen Shoulder?
Medical experts aren’t completely sure what causes frozen shoulder, although certain conditions can put you at greater risk:
- Age and gender: Women, ages 40 and older, are more susceptible to frozen shoulder.
- Immobilization: Prolonged immobility or reduced mobility—due to a rotator cuff injury, broken arm, stroke, or recovery from surgery—can increase risk. Following a prescribed exercise program shortly after injury or surgery can help prevent frozen shoulder.
- Systemic diseases: These include diabetes, over- or under-active thyroid, cardiovascular disease, tuberculosis, and Parkinson’s disease.
How to Treat Frozen Shoulder
If you’re diagnosed with frozen shoulder, your physician may prescribe treatment to manage your pain and preserve the range of motion in your shoulder. Treatments include:
- Over-the-counter or prescribed medications to reduce pain and inflammation.
- Physical therapy to learn range-of-motion exercises that help recover shoulder mobility.
- For more stubborn symptoms, your physician may recommend steroid injections, joint distension, shoulder manipulation, or even surgery.
Frozen Shoulder and Physical Therapy
To successfully treat frozen shoulder, experts say that exercises and movement are essential. Your physical therapist will have you do some exercises during your session as well as create a home exercise program.
The experts at Verywell Health provide a step-by-step exercise program to treat your frozen shoulder:
- Passive shoulder range-of-motion exercises. These require another person, so your PT may perform them for you during your session.
- Shoulder towel stretches, such as the towel internal rotation shoulder stretch, or “hand-behind-the-back” stretch, to stretch tight rotator cuff muscles and a stiff joint capsule.
- Shoulder active range-of-motion exercises, to help you use your arm normally and get your shoulder and rotator cuff muscles working again.
- Isometric shoulder exercises, to strengthen the muscles around your shoulder. These can help improve the “neuromuscular recruitment” of your rotator cuff muscles.
- Scapular stabilization exercises, to compensate for the limited motion in your shoulder joint.
(As always, never start an exercise program without talking to your PT first.)
You may also want to consider on-demand physical therapy. Instead of a painful drive to the clinic, your PT comes to you, when and where it’s most convenient. You’ll receive at least 45 minutes of one-on-one time with a board-certified PT, who can create an exercise program tailored to you and your environment. You’ll be more likely to adhere to your exercise program and complete your course of care.
There’s no need to carry the heavy burden of frozen shoulder. Contact Luna on-demand physical therapy—you’ll be on the road to recovery in no time!
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