What is Frozen Shoulder?

Frozen shoulder pain physical therapy huntington beach

Frozen Shoulder Physical Therapy in Huntington Beach

I’ve explained this several times to patients in our physical therapy clinic in Huntington Beach. Frozen shoulder is a term that almost everyone has heard, but at the same time most don’t understand correctly. Let me briefly break it down here in plain English.


Is it really frozen shoulder?

The first thing that should be explained about frozen shoulder, is that sometimes it really isn’t frozen shoulder at all. What do I mean? Well the term frozen shoulder is what we might call a garbage can term, meaning that some use the term to describe any shoulder that is restricted in mobility. So, simply because a healthcare practitioner said you had frozen shoulder, they may not have mean the actual condition of adhesive capsulitis.

What is adhesive capsulitis?

This is the technical term for frozen shoulder. 

The Mayo Clinic defines adhesive capsulitis as involving 

“stiffness and pain in the shoulder joint. Signs and symptoms typically begin slowly, then get worse. Over time, symptoms get better, usually within 1 to 3 years.”

This is an inflammatory condition of the shoulder capsule. The shoulder capsule is the connective tissue that surrounds the shoulder joint and holds it in place. The the condition of adhesive capsulitis sets in, there is inflammation in the capsule which then causes a tightening of the tissue as is scars down. This gets into a painful cycle of shoulder inflammation, which leads to tightening, which increases friction, which increases inflammation, which increases tightening and so on.

What causes frozen shoulder?

That is the million dollar question. While sometimes there are some incidents which can trigger it, like a fall or an injury, sometimes the cause is not known. 

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons state there is an increased risk of frozen shoulder with patients who have diabetes and other conditions, as well as people who immobilize the shoulder for some time. 

I had a patient who had frozen shoulder after receiving a vaccination injection. Some patients don’t have any known cause. My personal belief is that there is an altered immune response component to the condition which could be caused by several factors which influence the immune response.

What can physical therapy do for frozen shoulder?

If you truly have a case of adhesive capsulitis, then unfortunately you are on a path which can be lengthy in time and a bit painful. The shoulder goes through a phase of tightening more and more, then it plateaus off, and then motion is restored. The good part of all this is that it WILL recover on its own. If you don’t do anything, chances are it will get better. However this can take well over a year! In physical therapy we try and reduce the inflammation, gently restore motion and try and speed up the recovery process by addressing these two areas. It is really the same process as we have with any condition which we have laid out in the guide 5 Steps to Get Out of Pain.

If you are suffering from symptoms of shoulder pain and loss of motion, we would love to help you get back to doing what you love. 

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