Frozen Shoulder: Causes, Symptoms & Treatments
For those who have experienced it, frozen shoulder is a frustrating and potentially debilitating condition that can last for up to a year before your shoulder will return to the normal condition. Therefore, properly understanding the causes, symptoms, treatment options and potential home remedies for this unusual condition is essential.
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What is Frozen Shoulder?
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 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.
The symptoms are easy to overlook or attribute to something else, such as regular soreness following a workout or a muscle strain. However, people 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.
Most researchers describe this condition 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.
Lack of Use: 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. 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. 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.
Surgery: Surgery on the shoulder can result in a 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 it 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: 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.
Treatments for Frozen Shoulder
As uncomfortable and mysterious as this condition is, a number of treatments have been found to be somewhat effective. They include steroidal injections, pain killers, anti-inflammatory medications and ointments, shoulder manipulation, surgery, and hydrodilatation.
Pain killers and anti-inflammatory medications can help relieve the swelling around the shoulder and prevent the tightening of the shoulder capsule.
Injections to the site of the shoulder can help to reduce the pain and improve mobility, particularly if you undergo this treatment early during the “freezing” phase of this condition.
One unusual treatment involves injecting fluid into the shoulder to stretch out the tightening tissue of the shoulder capsule, helping to prevent the advancement of this condition.
In this procedure, patients receive anesthesia and the doctor manually manipulate the muscles to stretch the tissue and improve mobility, thus preventing the pain such stretching might usually cause in a conscious patient.
In rare cases, a two-part surgery is performed simultaneously, stretching out tense tissues and then slicing those tissues to improve its flexibility. This surgery requires a notable recovery time.
Home Remedies for Frozen Shoulder
If you believe that you are developing frozen shoulder, or if more formal treatments aren’t working to soothe the symptoms, you can use a range of home remedies, such as turmeric paste, ginger, coconut oil and mustard seed oil, among others.
Known around the world for its powerful anti-inflammatory capabilities, turmeric paste is easy to prepare and use. It can be applied daily to the shoulder to improve the normal healing process, while also reduce the inflammation and pain.
The antioxidants, healthy fats, and other anti-inflammatory compounds can help to reduce swelling in the shoulder and promote muscle growth in the area.
Mustard Seed Oil
Warm mustard oil can be applied multiple times each day to reduce the pain and inflammation of the shoulder, while also boosting the strength and mobility in that area.
Exercises for Frozen Shoulder
The best exercise for a frozen shoulder is actually a combination of stretching and an aerobic exercise, as doing the latter can be dangerous without starting with the former.
You will want to begin by extending the shoulder by various stretches in each direction – above your head, out to the side, behind you and in large, loose circles. Performing low-impact exercises, such as swimming or very light weight-lifting, can help strengthen the area without straining the muscles, tendons, and tissues.