On July 2, 2012
A frozen shoulder can be a terrifying and painful condition for a patient. They are literally unable to move the shoulder at all due to inflammation caused by an injury or condition. When this happens, immediate treatment is necessary to help restore the range of motion to the joint. This condition is actually pretty rare and only affects about 2% of the population and mostly people between the ages of 40 and 60.
The good news is there are many physiotherapy solutions to a frozen shoulder and relief can be obtained quickly once treatment begins. With treatment, pain will decrease and the ability to move the joint will slowly return.
What causes a frozen shoulder?
There are many factors in the case of a frozen shoulder and no one thing causes this to happen. The main factor is inflammation that disables the joint completely. Things that can cause inflammation in this area are:
- Disorders of the cervical spine (Neck)
- Acute injury to the shoulder
- Shoulder surgery
- Heart surgery
- Thyroid conditions
A frozen shoulder can also be caused by non-use of the shoulder joint for long periods of time. People who have had surgery or are bed-ridden are at higher risk for this condition.
Symptoms of frozen shoulder
The main symptom of a frozen shoulder is loss of movement in the joint. The next symptom is a dull and aching pain that tends to be chronic, but worsens with trying to move the joint. This can cause a person to “favor” the shoulder and not attempt movement, which causes the condition to become even worse. However, excess attempts to move the joint will worsen the inflammation. This is why specialized treatment from a physiotherapist is of absolute necessity.
Common treatments for a frozen shoulder
Physiotherapy for a frozen shoulder is focused on reducing inflammation and restoring motion to the joint. The treatments aim at preventing further inflammation during treatment. The patient usually sees their physician first and the doctor prescribes and anti-inflammatory medication and refers the patient to physiotherapy. The underlying conditions that are contributing to or causing the condition must be addressed and treated by the physician as well. Then a referral will be made to a physiotherapist to begin a treatment program. Some of the different physiotherapy solutions to a frozen shoulder are:
Hot compresses - Used to loosen the muscles around the joint prior to treatment.
Cold packs - Used to help relieve swelling and inflammation. The patient may be instructed to use these at home before and after treatment.
Passive stretching with external rotation of the joint – The patient will hold onto a stationary object and rotate the body in towards the object and away from the object.
Forward flexion while in the supine position – Using the good arm to lift the affected arm while lying on the back and holding the arm in the overhead position for 15 seconds prior to releasing.
Arm crossover – Pulling the affected arm across the body and holding for 10 to 15 seconds.
The physiotherapist will prescribe stretching exercises for the home setting only after the inflammation has decreased. The treatment plan must be carefully balanced, allowing the patient to rest the shoulder in between therapy sessions to prevent further inflammation.
In order for full release to occur with a frozen shoulder it is important for the patient to take all medications as prescribed by the doctor, keep all appointments with the physiotherapist and follow instructions for home very carefully. Doing too much too fast with this condition could mean major set-backs in treatment.
The good news is over 90% of patients with frozen shoulder improve with physiotherapy treatments alone. Some have such a severe disability that an orthopedic surgeon must go into the joint and release and repair the shoulder, but this is rarely necessary.
Physiotherapy solutions to a frozen shoulder are absolutely necessary to ensure a full recovery from this condition and a full recovery is highly possible.