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Is your shoulder pain actually frozen shoulder?

Updated: May 30, 2023


You may have heard of frozen shoulder– but it is often a misunderstood condition. Frozen shoulder tends to arise quite spontaneously, and patients often ask ‘what causes it’ and ‘what can I do about it’. The answer however isn’t exactly black and white.

What is frozen shoulder?

Also known as adhesive capsulitis, it is a condition characterised by shoulder pain and stiffness or limited shoulder movement. A big tell-tale sign is limited movement out to the side, and reduced shoulder outwards rotation. It generally occurs between the ages of 40 and 65 years old, and is seen more commonly in females than males. There are a few stages of the condition with varying symptoms. The second stage known as the painful stage however is when we often see patients present to our clinic.

It is important to understand that the natural progression of frozen shoulder is largely variable, and it is difficult to estimate an exact period of which it will last. It can range anywhere between a few months up to 24 months.

The tough part of frozen shoulder is it seems to occur quite spontaneously. The research has identified inflammatory markers in the shoulder region which over an extended period leads to scarring. This may in turn lead to the stiffness present in those with frozen shoulder. Although it is still unknown what the exact cause is, a minor incident or event to the shoulder may initiate the beginning of this condition.

What can I do for it?

An individualised rehabilitation program will aim to manage the pain and control the symptoms. The focus of physiotherapy is on strengthening specific muscles of the shoulder and minimising the limitations of movement. We aim to restore as much movement as possible within pain limits. Tight structures within the shoulder which add to restrict motion is released through manual therapy and modalities are applied to provide symptomatic pain relief. The effects of the work we do in the clinic should then be maintained through a specific home exercise program.

As each case is unique, we understand when there is a need for further referral in addition to physiotherapy treatment. We are thus able to arrange these referrals depending on the circumstances.

Take away points

- Frozen shoulder occurs spontaneously

- It lasts for an unspecified period

- Physiotherapy will help manage and improve symptoms


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