man in pain with hand on shoulder

Time to Thaw Out: How to Unfreeze a Frozen Shoulder

Frozen shoulder is another term used to refer to a condition called adhesive capsulitis. With this condition, the shoulder capsule (which is made up of strong connective tissue and surrounds the ball-and-socket joint of your shoulder) becomes inflamed and tightens around the shoulder joint.

If you suffer from a frozen shoulder, you may notice that the affected shoulder stiffens over time and causes a dull, aching pain. You may be wondering if it’s possible to regain mobility in your shoulder and find relief from the pain. Let’s look at how a frozen shoulder develops and ways you can “thaw” a frozen shoulder.

What Causes a Frozen Shoulder?

The exact cause of the frozen shoulder has not been determined. However, it commonly occurs in people with diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, or thyroid disease. It also seems to develop when the shoulder is immobilized for long periods of time, such as after surgery, an injury, or stroke. Women are more likely to suffer from a frozen shoulder than men.

The Three Stages of a Frozen Shoulder

People affected by frozen shoulders often progress through three different stages. It should be noted that the length of each stage depends on each person.

  • Stage 1: Freezing. During this stage, pain and inflammation will begin and then progress. People often experience pain at night when trying to sleep. The pain will also cause them to favor the affected shoulder, using it less and less. This stage can last anywhere from one to nine months.
  • Stage 2: Frozen. The shoulder remains stiff, limiting shoulder movement. People struggle to reach behind their backs or above their heads. This stage can last from three to six months.
  • Stage 3: Thaw. The shoulder stiffness lessens, and the person’s range of motion increases. However, shoulder pain may remain, and a full range of motion may not be achieved without proper treatment. A shoulder could take anywhere from six months to two years to unfreeze on its own.

Treatments for a Frozen Shoulder

Treatment for frozen shoulders usually involves anti-inflammatory medication for pain relief and physical therapy to improve shoulder mobility. It’s crucial to seek the help of a certified physical therapist to avoid causing further damage. There needs to be a proper balance between stretching the shoulder and not stretching it too far. For this reason, physical therapists will start slow and gentle before increasing the exercises for muscle strengthening.

Home Exercises to “Thaw” a Frozen Shoulder

In addition to physical therapy, it’s suggested that you stretch your frozen shoulder at home to speed up healing. After meeting with a physical therapist, you can try these exercises at home to unfreeze a frozen shoulder:

  • Broomstick Flexion: Take a broom (or an item with similar dimensions, such as a mop) and hold it with both your hands in front of you. Slowly, raise your arms above your head as far as you can go. Lower your arms back down and repeat 5-6 times.
  • Broomstick Abduction: Hold the broom in the same manner as the exercise above, but move your arms left and right instead of above your head. Repeat 5-6 times.

Remember, the specific exercises you do at home to unfreeze a frozen shoulder will depend on your physical therapist’s plan for you. The above exercises are an example of what you may do during therapy.

How We Can Help with a Frozen Shoulder

Recovery from a frozen shoulder is not always easy, but it is possible with the guidance and support of a skilled shoulder expert.

As soon as you notice pain and stiffness in your shoulder, reach out to Philadelphia Hand to Shoulder Center, your orthopedic doctors in Bucks County, PA. We’ll get to the bottom of the discomfort and prescribe treatment. We’re also the best hand surgeons in Philadelphia, so we can help with any pain you may be having in your upper extremities. Get in touch with us today to schedule an appointment!

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