Getting A Frozen Shoulder: How To Manage It & Relieve Pain

At some point in our lives, we all have experienced some form of stiffness in our bodies, most commonly in the neck or shoulders. These conditions are typically mild for the most part, be it due to overexertion or some other reason. But what if that is not the case? Adhesive capsulitis, more commonly known as a frozen shoulder, is one health condition that leads to more than just a slight reduction in mobility. Its symptoms include stiffness, persistent pain, and loss of normal range of motion in the affected shoulder that may go away on its own or potentially worsen with time if left untreated.

Although physiotherapists still do not fully understand what causes a frozen shoulder, current findings point to the involvement of an inflammatory process. This condition often occurs due to prolonged immobilization due to injury, illness, or surgery. Thankfully, a frozen shoulder can usually be resolved, but it will take time and lots of self-help to make a full recovery.

Risk Factors and Causes

There are several risk factors associated with frozen shoulder, including:

  • Recent physical trauma: An arm fracture or surgery may result in immobility during recovery and cause the shoulder to stiffen.
  • Age: People over 40 are more at risk of frozen shoulder.
  • Gender: 70% of people that have experienced frozen shoulder are women.
  • Diabetes: Around 10-20% of people diagnosed with diabetes tend to develop frozen shoulder with potentially more severe symptoms.

Other health conditions that may increase this risk are:

  • Hypothyroidism
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Stroke
  • Cardiovascular diseases
  • Parkinson’s disease

To better understand precisely how a frozen shoulder happens, it is essential first to learn the shoulder’s anatomy. The shoulder comprises three bones: the humerus or upper arm bone, the collarbone, and the shoulder blade.

The round head of the humerus bone forms the ball to the shoulder blade’s socket joint, enabling the range of motion we use daily. A connective tissue called the shoulder capsule covers this joint, and synovial fluid helps it move without friction.

A frozen shoulder is generally thought to occur when scar tissue develops in the shoulder, causing the shoulder capsule to tighten and thicken. This results in less room for movement as well as causing pain and stiffness whenever the shoulder is moved.

But as mentioned before, the exact cause is yet to be understood and, at present, cannot always be identified.

Treatment

The aim of treating a frozen shoulder is to alleviate the pain and preserve flexibility and mobility in the shoulder. Most patients experience relief over time and with the help of treatment. Do note that, unlike the common stiff shoulder, symptoms of frozen shoulder can persist for several years, and recovery time may be slow. Below are some ways to relieve the pain through medications, exercises, and other methods.

1. Hot or cold compression packs aid in reducing swelling and pain. Alternating between hot and cold compress may help.

2. Painkillers like ibuprofen are available online or over-the-counter and can reduce inflammation and relieve mild pain. Please note that not all painkillers are suitable for all patients, so it is advised to consult with your doctor first.

3. Shoulder manipulation entails gently moving the patient’s shoulder under general anaesthetic.

4. Shoulder arthroscopy is a minimally invasive surgery used in a small percentage of frozen shoulder cases. A small tube or endoscope is inserted through an incision to remove scar tissues or adhesions in the shoulder joint.

5. Joint mobilisation and Soft tissue release – A physiotherapist will help to do gentle mobilisation of the shoulder joint and release tight muscles to allow greater movement at the shoulder.

Recommended Exercises

Apart from medication, several exercises can prevent and potentially reverse the stiffness in the shoulders and relieve a frozen shoulder:

1. Crossover arm stretch

The American Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) recommends the crossover arm stretch for alleviating shoulder stiffness. This is a simple exercise wherein you hold the upper arm of the affected shoulder and then gently pull it across in front of you and under your chin. Hold the position for 30 seconds, relax, and repeat from the top. This exercise should ideally be performed under the guidance of a doctor, osteopath, or physiotherapist to ensure proper form.

2. Towel stretch and pendulum stretch

Harvard Medical School suggests towel and pendulum stretching to relieve a frozen shoulder. Hold on to both ends of a towel behind your back in a horizontal position to do the towel stretch. Using your good arm, pull the affected arm upward to stretch it.

For the pendulum stretch, stand near a table and keep your shoulders relaxed. Rest the hand of your good arm on a table, lean forward, and let the affected arm hang down vertically. Swing the affected arm in a small circle—around a foot in diameter—for ten revolutions in both directions. Do this exercise thrice per day.

Conclusion

Regardless of how you got it, a frozen shoulder is a condition that you should not brush off casually. Besides impeding your day-to-day activities, leaving it unchecked may cause it to worsen over time. Therefore, if you think you have a frozen shoulder or are currently developing one, seek a pain management specialist in Singapore for a physical exam and the appropriate treatment options.

At Pain SG, we specialise in treating and managing various health conditions like tech neck, frozen shoulder, knee pain, heel pain, and many other ailments that affect your quality of life. We offer pain relief solutions in Singapore and strive to be the number one pain management resource that can effectively help you manage your pain-related conditions.

Call us for an appointment today or send your queries to info@physioasia.com.