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Thawing the Ice: Understanding and Managing Frozen Shoulder

Frozen shoulder, clinically known as adhesive capsulitis, is a condition characterised by stiffness and pain in the shoulder joint. It's as if the shoulder is "frozen" in place, severely limiting movement and impacting daily activities. This condition develops gradually, worsens over time, and then typically resolves within one to three years. But who wants to wait that long? In this blog post, we'll dive into what causes frozen shoulder, who is at risk, and most importantly, how to manage and potentially speed up the recovery process.


The Cold Hard Facts: What Causes Frozen Shoulder?


The exact cause of frozen shoulder is not entirely understood, but it involves thickening and tightening of the shoulder capsule, the tissue surrounding the shoulder joint. Factors that may contribute include:

  • Injury or Surgery: Immobilisation of the shoulder after an injury or surgery can lead to the development of a frozen shoulder.

  • Age and Gender: People over the age of 40, particularly women, are more prone to this condition.

  • Medical Conditions: Those with diabetes, thyroid issues, cardiovascular disease, or Parkinson's disease are at a higher risk.

The Three Chilling Stages of Frozen Shoulder


  1. Freezing (Painful Phase): The shoulder becomes stiff and painful to move. Pain often worsens at night.

  2. Frozen (Adhesive Phase): The pain might decrease, but the shoulder remains stiff, severely limiting movement.

  3. Thawing (Recovery Phase): Gradually, movement starts to improve and may eventually return to normal or close to normal.


Warming Up to Treatment: Managing Frozen Shoulder


The goal of managing frozen shoulder is to alleviate pain and restore normal movement and function. Here are some effective strategies:


1. Physiotherapy

A cornerstone of frozen shoulder treatment, physiotherapy involves exercises to improve flexibility and range of motion. A physiotherapist can tailor exercises to your specific phase of frozen shoulder, gradually increasing intensity to stretch the shoulder capsule and restore movement.


2. Medications

To manage pain and reduce inflammation, your doctor may recommend over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen or prescribe stronger medications.


3. Heat and Ice

Applying heat or ice to the shoulder can help reduce pain and inflammation. Heat therapy before exercises can make stretching less painful, while ice can help minimise pain afterward.


4. Corticosteroid Injections

For cases where pain is severe, corticosteroid injections into the shoulder joint may provide temporary relief by reducing inflammation.


5. Surgical Options

In severe cases where conservative treatments haven't provided relief, surgical options like shoulder manipulation under anaesthesia or arthroscopic surgery to loosen the joint capsule may be considered.


Exercises to Help Thaw a Frozen Shoulder


Here are a few exercises that can help improve range of motion. Remember, it's crucial to consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new exercise regimen.


Pendulum Stretch: Lean over slightly, allowing the affected arm to hang down. Swing the arm gently in small circles, gradually widening the circles over time.


Towel Stretch: Hold a towel in a horizontal position with both hands. Use the good arm to pull the affected arm up toward the back.


Cross-Body Reach: Use your good arm to lift your affected arm at the elbow, and bring it up and across your body, stretching the shoulder.


Frozen shoulder can be a long and frustrating condition, but with the right approach, it's possible to thaw the freeze and regain movement. Consistency with physiotherapy exercises, combined with medical treatment and patience, can significantly improve recovery time. If you suspect you have a frozen shoulder, consult with a healthcare provider to get a proper diagnosis and treatment plan tailored to your specific needs. Remember, the journey to recovery is a marathon, not a sprint, but with perseverance, you can regain your shoulder's freedom of movement.


If you have frozen shoulder and would like some physiotherapy to help with your recovery, you can book an appointment with one of our physios by calling 0117 329 2090 or booking online via our website.

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