A stiff shoulder can really cramp your style. From limited motion, trouble sleeping, an inability to stay active, to plain annoyance during everyday activities, consistent and nagging shoulder stiffness can begin to dominate your life. Though some stiffness occasionally isn’t too out of the ordinary, if you’ve been struggling with limited mobility in one or both of your shoulders consistently, you could have a condition called “Frozen Shoulder.”
If this sounds like something you’re going through, raise your hand. Err – not too high! We know that can’t be too comfortable given the current state that you’re in. But in all seriousness, if you’re experiencing painful shoulder symptoms, this article is for you.
Read on as we discuss what exactly is “Frozen Shoulder,” the different stages of this injury, and preventative care to support your recovery.
What Is Frozen Shoulder?
First off: what is Frozen Shoulder? Just as the name suggests — Frozen Shoulder, medically known as “adhesive capsulitis,” happens when the capsule of connective tissue that holds together the bones, ligaments, and tendons in your shoulder thickens and tightens – causing a loss in your range of motion. This thickening and tightening are what characterizes the “frozen” portion of this diagnosis. Stiffness is the predominant symptom of this condition, which can sometimes actually be worse at night due to the pressure that prolonged rest periods can put on the joint.
Getting a proper medical diagnosis for this condition is important, as there are several conditions that slightly mimic similar symptoms. Shoulder stiffness is a common condition for three other injuries that can affect the shoulder: Frozen Shoulder, arthritis, and rotator cuff tears. While stiffness is the predominant symptom of Frozen Shoulder, arthritis also has a feeling of weakness, especially with overhead activities. Rotator cuff tears happen more suddenly, sometimes caused by an accident, and are generally more painful than a Frozen Shoulder.
The Three Stages Of Frozen Shoulder
Frozen shoulder isn’t an injury that happens in an instant or overnight. In fact, it typically follows three main stages. One important note: if you think that you may have Frozen Shoulder, keep in mind that while full recovery is the norm, working through this injury can take patience and time. Most cases of Frozen Shoulder complete the three stages within one to three years. Remember to keep your head up, get a proper medical diagnosis, and check-in with your practitioner throughout your rehab.
Stage 1: The Freezing Stage
During this initial stage, any movement from your shoulder feels painful. Overhead motion, as well as carrying heavier loads tend to aggravate the pain even more. As you progress through this stage, you’ll notice your range of motion begins to diminish more and more. This stage generally lasts anywhere from four to nine months.
Stage 2: The Frozen Stage
This stage of Frozen Shoulder is what gives this diagnosis its name: your shoulder joint seems to “freeze” or lose mobility in a big way. Some people notice a decrease in pain during this period, but this is generally the peak of the condition with intense stiffness that makes movement of your shoulder difficult. This stage normally lasts from four to 12 months.
Stage 3: The Thawing Stage
Ah, sweet relief! The thawing stage lets you know that you’re in the homestretch of Frozen Shoulder. During this stage, you’ll notice your range of motion returning and stiffness subsiding. However, this doesn’t happen all at once, so remember to be patient with your range of motion as it comes back to normal. The thawing stage generally lasts from six months to two years.
At-Home And Preventative Care For Frozen Shoulder
If you think that you have Frozen Shoulder or have already been diagnosed, it’s important to work with a medical professional to help guide your rehabilitation timeline and action. This condition can vary in severity from person-to-person, so it’s important to have a plan that is personalized just for you! A healthy rehabilitation plan encompasses both gently working on range of motion while controlling pain and discomfort, with both professional and at-home therapy. Some of the at-home recommendations include:
Using a countertop as a guide, rest the forearm of your healthy shoulder on the edge. Gently coax your affected arm to swing back and forth, trying to slightly extend the end range after a couple of swings. Reposition, and swing the affected arm back and forth in front of you, again trying to slightly extend your end range of motion. Stiffness is an OK feeling, but stop immediately if you feel a sharp pain or if the exercise becomes progressively more uncomfortable.
Heat And Ice
A big part of managing Frozen Shoulder is limiting inflammation and helping the shoulder calm down enough for healing to take place. Alternating both heat packs and ice packs have given many people substantial pain relief and also helped decrease inflammation in the joint.
We know that this one may sound simple, but it’s important! People who have had to limit shoulder movement and become a bit more sedentary either due to other injuries, surgeries, or lifestyle are at a higher risk for Frozen Shoulder. Our bodies were made to move – so use ‘em! Staying active in general will encourage mobility and grant many other health boons along the way.
Can Chiropractic Treatment Help With Frozen Shoulder Recovery?
Through the use of adjustments of the spine, neck, and extremities, chiropractic can help to realign the body and provide relief that can be so desperately needed in the throes of this injury. Stiffness in one area of the body can affect so much more than just your shoulder! Chiropractic care can help not only address the shoulder stiffness but also help give the rest of your body the attention that it also needs through this process.
These gentle adjustments help to decrease inflammation, relieve pressure, reduce nerve irritability, and ultimately allow your entire body to relax and healing to take place. Additionally, chiropractic adjustments can also help with joint mobility, which is a huge factor in caring for your shoulder through Frozen Shoulder rehabilitation. By working consistent chiropractic care into your routine, you enable better healing, speed the rate of your recovery, and increase your overall quality of life. That’s a huge win-win. Your practitioner can also help you work in appropriate at-home exercises to accelerate your progress outside of office hours.
Whether you suspect that you may have Frozen Shoulder, have been diagnosed, or are looking to get help proactively, chiropractic care can help with overall shoulder health.