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Treating a Stiff and Painful Shoulder


Shoulder Pain

If you’ve experienced a gradual onset of increased shoulder pain and decreased movement, you might be experiencing the symptoms of Adhesive Capsulitis (commonly known as Frozen Shoulder).

Symptoms of Adhesive Capsulitis

Patients suffering from this condition usually enter the healthcare system when the symptoms have become so severe that their everyday life activities are being restricted. Often times the patient cannot sleep on the involved shoulder or move the arm behind there back due to pain. Basic daily activities such as getting dressed or combing their hair is painful and difficult to perform. Symptoms can last for up to 3 years, but Physical Therapy can greatly reduce the time needed to restore the functional use of the involved arm.

What Causes This Condition?

Adhesive Capsulitis can occur in all ages and sexes, but it most commonly impacts females over the age of 40. The exact etiology of Adhesive Capsulitis is not known, but there is a component of decreased fluid in the joint tissues and possibly an autoimmune response that factor into the cause of the Frozen Shoulder condition. There are thought to be many causes of the Frozen Shoulder symptoms such as an insidious onset, stroke, heart disease and diabetes, none of these conditions are guaranteed to cause the symptoms of Adhesive Capsulitis.

In most cases, there is some form of trauma to the joint, and it might be very minor. The trauma causes the patient to decrease the use of the involved arm and eventually there is a loss of motion and a great deal of pain when the arm is moved too far.

Physical Therapists are well trained to treat the symptoms of Adhesive Capsulitis and help patients with this problem on a daily basis.

Three Phases of Adhesive Capsulitis

Traditionally, healthcare professionals refer to 3 different phases of Adhesive Capsulitis. The first phase is known as the “freezing phase.” There is a gradual onset of increased pain and decreased motion. Patients usually modify and adjust the way they do things to accommodate for the worsening symptoms. Eventually the symptoms get so bad that they have to seek medical attention. This is usually the time that the patient enters into a formal treatment period with a Physical Therapist.

The second phase or the “Frozen phase” is characterized with less pain at rest, but severe limitations to motions of the involved shoulder. The pain is usually intense when the arm is moved to the end range of motion.

The third phase or “Thawing phase,” is the time period when the motion slowly returns to near normal levels. The pain level continues to decrease, and the functional use of the involved limb returns to pre-injury status.

Treatment for Adhesive Capsulitis

Adhesive Capsulitis or Frozen Shoulder symptoms can literally last for years if not treated aggressively. Physical Therapists are trained to expedite the recovery process using a variety of methods.

At ACE Physical Therapy and Sports Medicine Institute, our Physical Therapists will evaluate your shoulder. Based on your specific condition, they will introduce various treatment techniques including manual stretching, designing a personalized exercise routine and the utilization of modalities to control the pain. The end goal is to help you return to a pre-injury life style.

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