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What is frozen shoulder? Causes, symptoms, and treatment

Woman with frozen shoulder

Frozen shoulder is a medical condition that is accompanied by pain and stiffness in your shoulder joint. The signs and symptoms of frozen normally start off gradually but worsen over time. The condition does resolve itself but only after one to three years, which can seem like forever to someone in discomfort. It is not normal or typical for frozen shoulder to recur in the same shoulder. However, some people may develop it in the opposite shoulder.

Causes and symptoms of frozen shoulder

The ligaments, tendons, and bones that make up the joint in your shoulder consist of connective tissue. When the capsule of connective tissue begins to thicken and tighten around the joint of the shoulder, a frozen shoulder can result.

This condition generally will restrict a person’s movement. It may be something that occurs in diabetic patients or those who haven’t been able to use their shoulder for a long time because of a surgery or fracture.

The symptoms of frozen shoulder usually develop slowly and come in several stages. Each stage can linger for months.

The stages of frozen shoulder are:

  • Freezing stage – Pain is noticeable with any shoulder movement, and the range of motion in your shoulder also becomes limited
  • Frozen stage – Pain may start to go away during this stage. However, you will notice a lot more stiffness in your shoulder as it becomes more difficult to use
  • Thawing stage – The range of motion in your shoulder will start to improve in this final stage, as its name suggests

Many people, will notice worsening pain at night, unfortunately. That may cause a disruption in the amount and quality of their sleep.

Diagnosis: What to expect at a doctor’s appointment

To diagnose a frozen shoulder accurately, your doctor may perform a frozen shoulder test. During this exam, the medical professional may have you move in specific ways to check your range of motion.

That’s what my GP did during my appointment when I had a shoulder issue. Your doctor may also ask you to relax your muscles while they gently move your arm. This makes sense given that a frozen shoulder affects both passive and active range of motion.

There are certain cases where the doc may use a numbing medicine and inject it into your arm to determine your existing range of motion. Doctors can normally diagnose a frozen shoulder based on your symptoms alone. However, your doctor may have you undergo an MRI or X-ray to rule out any other conditions.

Treatment options for frozen shoulder

Most treatment for frozen shoulder consists of controlling the pain and limiting movement of your shoulder as much as possible. Over-the-counter meds can help reduce inflammation and pain related to frozen shoulder. Your doctor may prescribe stronger pain relievers.

Therapy may be beneficial to restore mobility in your shoulder. Steroid injections, joint distension, shoulder manipulation, or surgery may be recommended depending on the severity of your frozen shoulder.

While you are at home, you can try to apply heat or cold packs to your shoulder to help reduce pain. You should also continue to use the shoulder as much as you can while at home, depending on your range of motion limits.

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