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Everything You Need To Know About Frozen Shoulder Pain

What is a frozen shoulder?


Frozen shoulder is a painful condition characterised by stiffness and limited range of motion. It is also commonly referred to as “adhesive capsulitis”. It may be triggered by trauma, postoperatively, or a previous shoulder injury, but can also arise without warning.  The joint capsule tightens and becomes inflamed. Scar tissue then forms, causing adhesions which result in a stiff and painful shoulder. This condition can take up to 2-3 years to completely resolve. However in most cases it resolves within 18 months. 


The bones, ligaments and tendons that make up your shoulder joint are held in a capsule of connective tissue. Frozen shoulder occurs when this capsule thickens and tightens around the shoulder joint, losing its normal capacity to stretch and thereby restricting its movement. Pain often causes fear of movement, and this lack of movement leads to further contraction of the capsule.


People with a frozen shoulder have limitations in both active and passive range of motion. Many everyday activities can be difficult such as reaching behind your back, reaching up to a high shelf, and rotating the arm away from your body. Often people describe feeling as if the shoulder is stuck and physically cannot move any further. You may also have difficulty sleeping on that side.



How does frozen shoulder occur?


Although the cause of developing a frozen shoulder is not entirely known, there are some risk factors that have been identified that may predispose you to developing the condition.


  • Women are more likely than men, especially between the ages of 40-60.

  • Reduced mobility or immobility of the shoulder due to previous injury or recovery from surgery can sometimes develop into frozen shoulder.

  • Certain systemic diseases such as diabetes, thyroid disorders and cardiovascular disease have been linked with frozen shoulder.

  • There is usually no need for imaging as frozen shoulder can be diagnosed based on your symptoms and physical examination - which will show limitations in both active and passive range of motion.



Symptoms of a frozen shoulder

  • Progressive loss of active and passive movement in the shoulder

  • Swelling and inflammation

  • Strong pain at rest

  • Pain is aggravated by movement

  • Pain at night and difficulty lying on the affected side



Stages of a frozen shoulder











How to relieve frozen shoulder pain


Frozen shoulder treatment involves managing the pain and maintaining as much range of motion as possible. Exercises can help recover mobility in your shoulder. They must be done consistently in order to achieve the best results. A Physiotherapist will guide you as to what exercises will benefit you the most, and they will continue to progress your program as you improve.


Anti-inflammatory medication should be taken to help reduce pain and swelling. Apply a hot pack over the shoulder for 20 minutes before bed to help relax all the muscles and increase blood flow to the area. Also make sure to modify any activities that are aggravating your pain. For example, avoid repetitive overhead activities, avoid heavy lifting away from the body, rest from sport etc.


Corticosteroid injections may help to decrease pain and improve mobility in the early stages of frozen shoulder if conservative treatment is failing. It is recommended to trial conservative treatment such as Physiotherapy first, as it is likely that your pain may improve without needing the injection.


How can Physiotherapy help with frozen shoulder pain?


Physiotherapy for frozen shoulder will involve massage and joint mobilisations to alleviate muscle tightness, and help restore your movement. We also use ultrasound, heat packs and TENS for pain relief. We will prescribe you with a comprehensive exercise program that will initially include stretches and range of motion exercises to help increase your movement as much as possible. As your range improves we will incorporate strength work which may involve theraband or hand held weights to address muscle weakness and restore you back to your optimum functional capacity. We will also offer you important advice regarding the best sleeping positions, posture, desk setup for work, and other tips to help manage your pain at home.




If you are suffering from a frozen shoulder and would like some treatment or further advice, contact us on info@wphphysio.com.au or call us on 9875 3760. We would be more than happy to assist you in your recovery.

You do not need a Doctors' referral in order to make an appointment with a Physiotherapist

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