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Frozen Shoulder

Frozen shoulder has a few different names, but is known as adhesive capsulitis to the medical community.

I know, the word 'adhesive capsulitis, can be a mouth full. But let me break down the condition for you. The WHAT of the disorder happens from the synovium of the ball and socket shoulder joint. Think of the synovium as the outer lining of the joint that allows the lubricant, or the "oil" of the joint to swirl around, allowing the shoulder to move smoothly.  

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Frozen shoulder happens when this synovium, or capsule, becomes irritated or inflamed. This inflammation quickly leads to the synovium laying down more and more scar tissue. Scar tissue "traps" the shoulder joint, and keeps the shoulder from moving in a variety of directions. Initially this can feel very painful. This condition can last YEARS, and can seriously kick you out of your gym or really any active routine. 

Frozen shoulder has three phases:

  • Acute or freezing phase where inflammation and scar tissue form in every direction. During this phase, your shoulder movement is limited by pain. Usually the loss of motion happens more in outward rotation at first, but quickly spreads to other motions. 
  • Frozen phase where the pain subsides but the motion continues to decrease as the scar tissue heals.
  • Thawing phase happens where motion is gained back, but some people have issues with moving their shoulder even past this phase.

WHY this inflammation occurs is a bit more complicated. There are a host of reasons why frozen shoulder happens: two of the main contributors are diabetes and thyroid conditions. However, frozen shoulder can happen from a shoulder injury that doesn’t get treated for months, neck issues that affect arm function, strokes, heart and lung issues, as well as arthritis - just to name a few.  

Does physical therapy help with adhesive capsulitis?

There are physical therapist guided manual techniques and mobility programs for frozen shoulder. These techniques allow people to improve their daily function, and pain with this condition.  Education is half the battle in knowing what to do with this condition.  Our goal as physical therapists is to teach you that knowledge and get you back to the things YOU want to do.