Frozen Shoulder. What is it? What can I do to Help it?
By: Michael Flores, DPT
Frozen shoulder, also known as adhesive capsulitis, is a painful shoulder condition that limits your movement and affects the way you carry yourself throughout the day. Sometimes it is caused by an injury, may be linked to diabetes, may occur after surgery or trauma, but many times does not have a definitive starting point.
There are four phases of frozen shoulder: pre-freezing, freezing, frozen, and thawing. During the pre-freezing phase (~1-3 months of symptoms), you will notice that your arm is painful with movement and you may begin guard or protect your shoulder. During phase 2, the freezing stage (3-9 months of symptoms), you may notice quite a bit of stiffness or loss of motion in your shoulder, particularly during external rotation (as if reaching behind your neck). Pain also becomes more noticeable at night. Stage 3, the frozen stage, means you have had symptoms for 9-14 months. This is usually pain towards the beginning of this stage but lessens towards the end of this stage. Stage 4, thawing, occurs at about 12-15 months into having these symptoms. As the name implies, your shoulder should start to become less painful and will be able to reach overhead more easily.
Just so you know, there is always something you can do for your shoulder no matter what stage you are in. Some health care professionals may wait to refer you to physical therapy when you are in the frozen or thawing phase. I don’t agree with this because you have now lost out on months of time where you could have been doing something productive to promote a good healing environment for your shoulder. If you are in so much pain that you are literally unable to move your shoulder, there are still techniques that would be helpful to do. If you have been keeping up with our blogs, you might recall that the shoulder joint is not just simply a ball and socket joint. Your shoulder joint is actually made up of multiple joints (directly and indirectly). For example, it is made of up the shoulder blade where it meets your thoracic rib cage, your collar bone at both ends, your thoracic spine, cervical spine, and even involves your upper ribs. So, if you are unable to move the ball and socket joint because of pain/stiffness/weakness, you can choose any of these other joints to work on in order to benefit the frozen shoulder. If you still have pain when trying to move some of these other joints, you can use what is called the Total Motion Release technique. With this concept, you are actually going to treat your good shoulder in order to help the frozen shoulder. I know this sounds weird, but if I could prove it to you, then the proof is in the pudding. Here is a simple treatment you can try (regardless of what shoulder condition ales you). First of all, we need a test to see if the treatment is going to work for you. Raise your arm over your head as high as it goes and visually mark that spot on the wall (some people use tape to mark how high they can reach). For the treatment, take your good side and reach over your head as high and as far back as it can go. Hold it up there and continue to reach for 20 seconds. Rest, and repeat. Now, go back and check how high your can raise your “bad” shoulder. If it goes higher, great! This technique is going to work for you, so keep doing it. If, however, your shoulder gets worse, treat the good side one more time. If you go back again to check your “bad” side and it still gets worse, then stop and move on to something else/ a different movement or different joint. I’ll explain more about some of the variations you can try during my workshop on December 18, 2019 from 5-6. I hope to see you there. Like always, please feel free to send us an e-mail or phone call if you have any questions about this technique. We would love to help.