Frozen Shoulder: Causes & Symptoms

by Meenakshi Nagdeve last updated -

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Frozen shoulder is an inflammation of the shoulder joint that is prevalent more in women than in men, particularly in the age group of 40 and 60. A study published in the Acta Medical International Journal states that frozen shoulder is estimated to be prevalent among 2% to 5% of the general population. The origin of this condition in people remains somewhat mysterious, although it is most frequently seen in athletes and people who engage in intense exercise activity affecting their shoulder, upper back, and arms.

What is Frozen Shoulder?

Additionally known as Adhesive Capsulitis, frozen shoulder, is a strange condition in which someone gradually loses the range of motion in their shoulder, preventing a number of common activities and causing pain and inflammation. The symptoms are easy to overlook or attribute to something else, such as regular soreness following a workout or a muscle strain. According to a report published in the Scandinavian Journal of Rheumatologypeople with frozen shoulder often have an increase in the scar tissue that forms around the outside of their shoulder or a tightening of the tendons and tissues in the protective capsule around their shoulder. This change in normal tissue composition causes the stiffness and tightness associated with this condition, but the underlying cause of that tightness is yet to be found.

A team of researchers from the George Washington University Medical Center, Washington, D.C, USA describes frozen shoulder in three stages – the freezing, frozen and thawing stage. The first may be accompanied by the pain and stiffness, and last from a few weeks to months, or even longer. The frozen stage isn’t associated with any kind of pain, but rather general weakness and impaired movement that could last for a year or longer. You may experience a return of pain and discomfort in the final stage, thawing, but also an improved range of motion. This last step of the condition could last a few months, up to a number of years, before a normal level of movement is reached.

Causes of Frozen Shoulder

The most common causes of frozen shoulder include a sedentary lifestyle, the natural aging process, chronic disease, menopause, a surgery or an injury.

Aging

As we age, our tissues, bones, ligaments, and muscles tend to break down at a faster rate. While some people simply accept this as a natural part of aging, frozen shoulder is not normal, by any means. As you age, you must be more careful with excessive exercise, lifting, and straining your shoulder muscles, as you are already at a higher risk of scar tissue formation and tissue contraction around your shoulder capsule, say a team of researchers from the University of Tennessee, in their report published in the Seminars in Arthritis and Rheumatism.

Lack of Use

According to a report published in the Annals of Rheumatic Diseases Journal, if you live a predominantly sedentary lifestyle, or stay for a long period without moving your shoulder for a large portion of the day, let alone exercising, you may be susceptible to frozen shoulder. Your muscles will begin to atrophy with a lack of use, which can leave you feeling weak, and less likely to be active or exercise, resulting in a vicious cycle that could lead to this condition.

Chronic Disease

If you suffer from a chronic disease that affects your mobility, metabolism or your activity levels, you are more likely to suffer from frozen shoulder. Research published in the Cureus Journal, diabetes is often linked to this condition, as it can be characterized by poor blood flow to certain areas of the body, which can lead to inflammation, scar tissue, and a lack of proper healing following a workout.

Menopause

This condition not only disproportionately affects women, but is particularly high in postmenopausal women. According to a study published in the Clinical and Experimental Obstetrics and Gynecology, once estrogen levels drop in the body, certain metabolic aspects will change, and the hormonal pathways responsible for muscle growth and healing could be compromised. This is believed to be a reason why such a high number of cases are seen in women over 60 years of age.

Injury

Any injury to the shoulder usually requires that part of the body to be immobilized, at least for a short period of time. If you avoid using your shoulder or arm for weeks or months at a time, the muscle mass will begin to decrease and the tissue and ligaments around your shoulder could begin to tighten, resulting in a frozen shoulder, say a team of researchers from Switzerland in their report published in the RSNA Radiology Journals.

Surgery

Surgery on the shoulder can result in growth (and overgrowth) of the scar tissue, which can impede normal muscle movement and tissue formation, leading to the symptoms of this condition.

Symptoms of Frozen Shoulder

There are quite a few symptoms of frozen shoulder, such as stiffness and pain in the shoulder, limited range of motion, difficulty in sleeping and discomfort in performing normal activities.

Stiffness and Pain

The earliest symptom of a frozen shoulder is stiffness and mild pain in the shoulder, which can easily be mistaken for regular soreness. These feelings can become constant in some patients, while they may be transient in others.

Difficulty in Sleeping

A notable feeling of fatigue can indicate poor sleep patterns, and this sort of inflexible shoulder can cause dozens of interruptions over the course of a night, even if you don’t fully wake up to realize what is happening.

Limited Motion

According to a report by British Medical Journals, as you move from the first stage to the second stage of frozen shoulder, you will notice a significant decrease in your range of motion in every direction that requires flexibility in your shoulder area.

Normal Activities

Activities that are often “subconsciously performed” will gradually become more difficult or uncomfortable, such as opening a door, driving, tying your shoes, getting dressed or even brushing your teeth.

Frozen shoulder can be treated through routine physiotherapy, corticosteroid injections, and in some cases surgery. It would be advisable for you to consult an orthopedic doctor to treat the severity of the symptoms.

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About the Author

Meenakshi Nagdeve, Co-Founder, Organic Facts is a health and wellness enthusiast and is responsible for managing it. She has completed the Nutrition And Healthy Living Cornell Certificate Program, Cornell University, US. She holds a Post Graduate Diploma in Management from IIM Bangalore and B. Tech in Metallurgical Engineering and Materials Science from IIT Bombay. Prior to this, she worked for a few years in IT and Financial services. An ardent follower of naturopathy, she believes in healing with foods. In her free time, she loves to travel and taste different types of teas.

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