IMPORTANT COVID-19 UPDATE : We’re here to support accident victims and to continue to provide superior care for those in need during this ongoing crisis Learn More

Best Options for Dealing with a Frozen Shoulder

Jun 30, 2021

A painful condition in which the shoulder becomes stiff and inflamed with limited movement, frozen shoulder is known to resolve on its own over the course of years. But in that time period, people with the condition may suffer from the pain and immobility and seek relief. By working with a Conyers orthopedics clinic, you may be able to reduce symptoms of a frozen shoulder, address the root cause, and speed recovery.

What Is a Frozen Shoulder?

To understand frozen shoulder, it can be helpful to understand the composition and anatomy of a shoulder. The shoulder joint is where the arm bone, the shoulder blade, and the shoulder socket meet in a classic ball and socket joint. This is all encased in a joint capsule, which contains a series of ligaments that connect these elements to each other. When this connective tissue surrounding the joint becomes thick, stiff, and inflamed, this is known as adhesive capsulitis, or frozen shoulder.

The name frozen shoulder is used because as the condition worsens, movement becomes less and less possible. The condition develops in three phases, starting with pain and stiffness before pain lessens and immobility increases, until the ability to move the shoulder begins to improve over time and ultimately resolves.

Frozen shoulder is often caused by other immobility in the shoulder, especially after an injury or surgery that prevents the use of an arm. For this reason, it typically occurs in one shoulder or the other.

Diagnosing Frozen Shoulder

If you suspect you have a frozen shoulder, you will want to be diagnosed properly by a Conyers orthopedics specialist. A discussion of your symptoms and medical history will usually be followed by a physical examination in order to make an official diagnosis. During this exam, the doctor will move your shoulder in various directions to check pain and range of motion. They will be looking for both passive range of motion (them moving your arm) and active range of motion (moving your own arm). A comparison of these should show similar limitations in a case of frozen shoulder.

It is also common to be sent for an x-ray in order to rule out other problems of the shoulder joint, such as arthritis. Other imaging is typically not needed unless the doctor suspects other root causes.

Treating Frozen Shoulder

Because frozen shoulder usually resolves eventually, treatment usually focuses on managing pain and symptoms and facilitating future mobility. Simple treatments for the management of symptoms include the following:

  1. Hot and cold compresses, alternated throughout the day to reduce pain and swelling.
  2. Medication, particularly nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen
  3. Steroid injections injected into the shoulder joint for more severe pain and swelling
  4. Physical therapy and a corresponding at-home exercise routine to improve range of motion and strengthen muscles
  5. Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, or a TENS unit, to block nerve impulses and reduce pain

When these more simple treatments don’t relieve pain and stiffness after about a year, doctors may recommend other more invasive procedures. Examples include:

  1. Shoulder manipulation, in which you are under general anesthesia and a doctor forces movement of your shoulder, stretching or tearing the joint capsule to loosen it.
  2. A shoulder arthroscopy, where a doctor cuts through the tightest parts of your capsule and inserts small instruments throughout your shoulder.

Outlook for Frozen Shoulder

In most cases, a combination of simple treatments like pain relievers and exercises is enough to restore motion and function within a year of having frozen shoulder. Even when left completely untreated, the shoulder typically gets better on its own, just over longer periods of time. Full recovery is expected after about two years and a recurrence in the same shoulder is rare.

Certain factors can put you at risk for a worse or longer bout of frozen shoulder. Women, particularly between 40 and 60 years old, are at higher risk, as are people with diabetes. Stroke is another risk factor due to the potential limited movement of arms and shoulders.

The best way to prevent frozen shoulder is to seek physical therapy immediately after a shoulder injury or incident that causes immobilization.

Conyers Orthopedics Treatment for Frozen Shoulder

At AICA Conyers, our team of specialists will work to create a customized treatment plan based on your case of frozen shoulder. By offering access to a range of providers, diagnostic imaging, and years of experience, you will be able to experience personalized care. If you think you may be at risk for or suffering from a frozen shoulder, contact AICA Conyers today.