Understanding Frozen Shoulder (Adhesive Capsulitis): Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment
Frozen shoulder, also known as adhesive capsulitis, is a condition characterized by pain and stiffness in the shoulder joint, making it increasingly difficult to move over time. While symptoms often improve, full recovery can take up to three years. Physical therapy, focused on enhancing shoulder flexibility, is the primary treatment for frozen shoulders.
Women are more prone to frozen shoulders than men, and it typically affects adults between the ages of 40 and 60. Individuals with diabetes are at a higher risk of developing the condition. A qualified frozen shoulder specialist in Singapore can effectively treat this issue.
Causes of Frozen Shoulder
The exact causes of frozen shoulders are not yet fully understood, and there seems to be no clear correlation between occupation and arm dominance. However, certain risk factors can increase the likelihood of developing a frozen shoulder:
- Diabetes – Diabetic patients have a higher risk of developing frozen shoulders, although the reason remains unclear. Moreover, diabetic individuals with frozen shoulders usually experience more severe stiffness that takes longer to resolve.
- Other Medical Conditions – Frozen shoulders are associated with thyroid disorders (hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism), Parkinson’s disease, and cardiovascular disease.
Immobilization – Prolonged immobilization of the shoulder following a fracture, injury, or surgery can lead to the development of a frozen shoulder.
Symptoms of Frozen Shoulders
Common symptoms of a frozen shoulder include:
- Dull or aching pain extending into the upper arm.
- Limited range of motion in the shoulder joint
- Pain triggered by minor shoulder movement.
These symptoms can make it difficult to perform everyday tasks, such as putting away dishes, brushing hair, or reaching behind one’s back. It is important to note that frozen shoulder symptoms result from joint stiffness rather than muscle weakness.
Complications and Related Diseases of Frozen Shoulder
An untreated frozen shoulder can lead to various complications and related conditions, such as secondary impingement syndrome, which occurs when the limited mobility of the shoulder joint causes inflammation and irritation of the rotator cuff muscles and tendons. Osteoarthritis, a degenerative joint disease-causing chronic pain and stiffness, has also been linked to frozen shoulders. Additionally, a frozen shoulder can result in muscle wasting, anxiety, and depression, impacting the individual’s overall quality of life.
Treatment Options for Frozen Shoulder
Although a frozen shoulder typically improves over time (within 2-3 years), treatment aims to manage pain and restore the full range of motion and strength. Non-surgical treatment options include:
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (e.g., aspirin and ibuprofen)
- Cortisone injections
- Physical therapy, including range-of-motion exercises and stretching.
Surgical options such as shoulder arthroscopy may be considered if conservative treatments are insufficient. This minimally invasive procedure involves cutting some of the joint capsules and can be combined with manipulation for optimal results.
Diagnosis and Recovery Time for Frozen Shoulder
Diagnosing a frozen shoulder involves:
- A physical examination.
- A review of the patient’s medical history and symptoms.
- Imaging studies (e.g., X-rays or MRI scans) to rule out other causes of shoulder pain and stiffness.
Blood tests may also be conducted to check for underlying medical conditions associated with an increased risk of a frozen shoulder.
Recovery from a frozen shoulder can take between six weeks and three months, with physical therapy playing a critical role in maintaining the range of motion achieved with surgery. While most patients experience reduced pain and improved range of motion, some may continue to experience stiffness even after several years.
Stages of Frozen Shoulder
Frozen shoulder progresses through three stages:
- Freezing – Pain worsens, and range of motion decreases over six weeks to nine months.
- Frozen – Painful symptoms may improve, but stiffness persists; this stage typically lasts four to six months and can make daily tasks difficult.
Thawing – Shoulder mobility gradually improves over six months to two years, with strength and range of motion returning to normal or near-normal levels.
Treatment Roadmap with Dr Bryan Tan Hsi Ming & Dr KC Ang
Ortho Sports is a leading provider of musculoskeletal care, with experienced orthopaedic specialists skilled in treating frozen shoulders. Dr Bryan Tan Hsi Ming and Dr KC Ang offer a range of treatment options, including physical therapy, medication, and minimally invasive surgical procedures, to help patients achieve optimal outcomes and regain their mobility and function.
Frequently Asked Questions About Frozen Shoulders
The exact cause of a frozen shoulder is not fully understood, but it is believed to involve inflammation and thickening of the shoulder joint capsule. Risk factors for developing a frozen shoulder include diabetes, thyroid disorders, immobilization of the shoulder due to injury or surgery, and certain medical conditions such as Parkinson's disease and cardiovascular disease.
Although it is rare, a frozen shoulder can affect both shoulders simultaneously or sequentially. In some cases, individuals with a frozen shoulder in one shoulder may later develop the condition in the other shoulder.
Are there any effective home remedies for frozen shoulders?
While no specific home remedies can cure frozen shoulder, certain at-home practices can help alleviate symptoms and promote recovery. These include gentle range-of-motion exercises, applying heat or ice to the affected shoulder, and taking over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications to manage pain and inflammation.
Frozen shoulder often improves over time, with most people experiencing significant relief from symptoms within several months to a few years. However, seeking proper treatment, including physical therapy, medication, and in some cases, surgery, can accelerate the recovery process and help restore shoulder function more effectively.
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