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The Do’s and Don’ts for Frozen Shoulder

Frozen shoulder is a somewhat common condition that often causes very painful and restricted motion in your shoulder. The condition can make daily life difficult and in some patients can last approximately 18 without treatment. Due to frozen shoulder being frequently misunderstood by people, they may seek home remedies that do more harm than good or are unaware of effective treatment options.

Read below and learn the do’s and don’ts of frozen shoulder to avoid exacerbating the condition and ensure a more speedy recovery. 

What is a Frozen Shoulder

Frozen shoulder is also known as adhesive capsulitis and comes in three stages that also act as symptoms:

Symptoms of Frozen Shoulder

  1. Freezing: Shoulder pain begins often without an apparent cause, worsening over several weeks, and slowly losing range of motion in the shoulder.
  2. Frozen: Shoulder pain may improve, but the stiffness is still present. This stage typically lasts between 4 and 12 months, with regular activities becoming difficult due to lack of shoulder motion.
  3. Thawing: Motion in the shoulder begins to slowly improve, and motion increases over months until it has fully returned in most cases.

The condition occurs when the shoulder capsule thickens and becomes stiff and tight, developing bands of tissue and decreasing the synovial fluid in the joint. The specific causes of frozen shoulder are not known; there is no connection to a person’s job, hobbies, or activities or which arm is dominant. Though, some important risk factors have been identified:

  • Cigarette (tobacco) smoking
  • Diabetes, particularly uncontrolled diabetes (high glucose or high hemoglobin A1c level)
  • Diseases such as hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, high triglyceride levels, and other conditions
  • Recent shoulder injury
  • Recent surgery (shoulder, chest, spine, or breast surgery)

Frozen Shoulder Do’s

If you have been diagnosed with or think you may be suffering from a frozen shoulder, here is a list of things to do:

Talk With Your Doctor

If the symptoms listed above sound like what you are experiencing, you should make an appointment with your healthcare provider to get a proper diagnosis. Doctors with training in orthopedics and shoulder disorders are most experienced in identifying this condition and ruling out other similar problems.

To diagnose a frozen shoulder, your doctor will conduct a physical exam that includes moving the affected shoulder and seeing if the range of motion is limited or if pain occurs. They will also ask you to move the frozen shoulder yourself. Your doctor will also order imaging tests to rule out other possible causes of shoulder stiffness, typically a simple X-ray series.

Use mild heat

Most patients find that applying mild heat, rather than ice to the shoulder helps the symptoms. A hot tub or warm shower is a good way of doing this.

Be checked for other conditions that may cause frozen shoulder

The frozen shoulder could be due to uncontrolled diabetes, smoking, or other medical problems as listed above. Your primary care doctor can easily check you for these conditions that may need treatment.

Frozen Shoulder Don’ts

If you have been diagnosed with or think you may be suffering from a frozen shoulder, do not do the following:

Forcing the motion

Some patients may be frustrated by the loss of motion and may want to force the shoulder to regain motion. This can be dangerous and could cause significant injury to the rotator cuff or other important parts of the shoulder joint.

Taking too much medication

Do not take more medication to treat this condition than is recommended on the bottle. The pain with frozen shoulder can be intense, and over the counter medication may help, but is often not very effective for this type of pain. Taking more than the recommended dosage could harm your stomach, your liver, your kidneys, or other organs.

Frozen Shoulder Treatment 

Frozen shoulder treatment is usually non-surgical, but can uncommonly involve surgical treatments. The focus of treatment is primarily decreasing the inflammation and pain, and regaining the range of motion. Unfortunately, physical therapy has not proven to be effective for this particular condition.

Non-surgical treatments include:

  • Waiting.  Cases of frozen shoulder may eventually resolve after around 12-18 months.
  • Steroid injections.  A simple injection in the office will often significantly improve the pain and motion of the shoulder, and may lead to much faster recovery.  A trained professional is needed to perform this safely.

Surgical Treatments may include:

  • Shoulder arthroscopy: An orthopedic surgeon using a small scope can release tight portions of the joint capsule using pencil-sized instruments through small incisions around the shoulder.
  • Manipulation under anesthesia: The doctor puts the patient to sleep and forces the shoulder to move, causing the capsule and scar tissue to stretch or tear. This releases the tightening and increases the range of motion without causing the patient to suffer through the procedure.

If you’re experiencing intense shoulder pain when trying to rotate your arm and find it difficult to maneuver, we encourage you to call (253) 830 – 5200 or request an appointment online to see one of our physicians. At Proliance Puget Sound Orthopaedics, we provide best-in-class orthopedic care to our community with compassion, caring, and dedicated expertise for shoulder treatment and surgery. Contact us today to experience how we can help you. 


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