Frozen Shoulder: Causes, Symptoms, and Effective Physio Solutions

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Frozen shoulder, also known as adhesive capsulitis, is a painful and restrictive condition that affects the shoulder joint’s mobility. This condition can significantly impact daily activities and cause discomfort and shoulder pain. In this article, we will delve into the main causes of frozen shoulder, how to recognize its first signs, the fastest ways to alleviate the condition, and effective methods to unfreeze a shoulder.


What are the main causes of Frozen Shoulder?

The main cause of frozen shoulder is the thickening and tightening of the capsule surrounding the shoulder joint. This capsule contains connective tissue that normally allows the joint to move freely. However, various factors can lead to inflammation, scarring, and the development of adhesions within the capsule. There are certain things that make people more at risk of developing a frozen shoulder, including:

  • Age – it is more common in people of ages 40 – 60 years old
  • Gender – about 70% of people who get frozen shoulder are women
  • Diabetes – people with diabetes are more likely to develop the condition and it also takes longer to recover
  • Immobility – not moving a shoulder often enough after an injury can turn into a frozen shoulder
  • Systemic diseases – tuberculosis, thyroid issues, Parkinson’s disease and cardiovascular disease puts people more at risk

What are the first signs of Frozen Shoulder?

Recognizing the early signs of frozen shoulder is crucial for early intervention. The symptoms usually come gradually over time. Common initial symptoms include:

  • Dull or aching pain; sometimes sharp with movement
  • Pain in the outer region of the shoulder that can radiate into the outer upper arm
  • Discomfort that’s worse at night and in cold environments
  • Inability to sleep on the affected shoulder
  • Stiffness in the shoulder that worsens over time

What are the stages of freezing?

There are typically 3 phases in frozen shoulder which occur over a period of up to 2 years.

Phase 1 – Freezing phase

Firstly, the shoulder gradually becomes more painful over a period of time. With pain, the shoulder starts becoming stiffer.

Phase 2 – Frozen phase

Secondly, the shoulder pain improves a little during this phase. However, shoulder movement will be extremely limited and performing daily tasks such as dressing or grooming will be painful and difficult.

Phase 3 – Thawing phase

Lastely, the shoulder pain will gradually alleviate and diminish during this phase. It will also be easier to move the shoulder as the stiffness improves while your shoulder is “thawing”. (How do you thaw a frozen shoulder?)

What is the fastest way to unfreeze a shoulder?

Getting rid of frozen shoulder requires patience and a multifaceted approach. While there isn’t an instant solution, the following strategies can help accelerate the healing process:

a. Physiotherapy: Engaging in gentle and targeted exercises under the guidance of a physical therapist can help improve flexibility and restore range of motion.

b. Pain Management: Over-the-counter pain relievers or prescribed medications can alleviate pain and inflammation associated with frozen shoulder.

c. Heat and Cold Therapy: Applying heat to the affected area before performing exercises can help relax the muscles, while cold therapy can reduce inflammation and pain.

d. Corticosteroid Injections: In some cases, your healthcare provider may recommend corticosteroid injections to decrease inflammation and provide relief.

Frozen shoulder can be a challenging condition, but with the right approach, it’s possible to alleviate its symptoms and regain shoulder mobility. Understanding the causes, recognizing early signs, and following a combination of physical therapy, pain management, and exercises can contribute to an effective recovery. If you suspect you have a frozen shoulder, it’s advisable to consult a healthcare professional for accurate diagnosis and a personalized treatment plan. Experiencing shoulder pain? Click here to find out more about physiotherapy for shoulder pain relief and how our team of physiotherapists can help.