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What Types of Treatments are Available
for Frozen Shoulder?

Frozen shoulder, also known as adhesive capsulitis, is a condition that causes severe, painful restriction of motion in the shoulder joint. Frozen shoulder symptoms start gradually and worsen over time before resolving on their own. Suppose you are recovering from a medical condition or procedure that prevents you from moving your arm, including a stroke, your risk of developing frozen shoulder increases. There are a few frozen shoulder treatment options, including range-of-motion exercises, corticosteroids, and numbing medications. In a small number of cases, arthroscopic surgery is required to loosen the joint capsule to allow it to move more freely.

Why is it called frozen shoulder?

Frozen shoulder causes the capsule surrounding the shoulder joint to contract and form scar tissue, which prevents the shoulder bone from moving in the socket. The shoulder literally seems to be “frozen,” which is why it is called frozen shoulder.

Frozen shoulder treatment options

Treatment for frozen shoulder includes controlling shoulder pain and preserving as much range of motion in the shoulder as possible.

Medications

Over-the-counter pain relievers, including aspirin and ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB), can help reduce pain and inflammation associated with frozen shoulder. In some cases, a doctor may recommend prescription-strength pain relievers and anti-inflammatory medications. 

Therapy

A physical therapist can teach patients different range-of-motion exercises to help recover as much mobility in the affected shoulder as possible. The efficacy of these exercises depends on the patient’s commitment to doing them regularly and properly.

Surgical and other procedures

The good news is that most frozen shoulders heal themselves. The healing process typically takes between 12-18 months. If you are experiencing persistent symptoms, a doctor will likely suggest:

  • Steroid injections. Injecting corticosteroids into the shoulder joint can help lower pain levels and increase the shoulder’s mobility. This holds particularly true in the early stages of frozen shoulder cases.
  • Joint distension. Injecting sterile water into the joint capsule can help stretch the tissue, which will make it easier to move the joint.
  • Shoulder manipulation. Patients will receive a general anesthetic for this procedure, making them unconscious and unable to feel any pain. Then the doctor moves the shoulder joint in different directions to help loosen the tightened tissue.
  • Surgery. Surgery for frozen shoulder is not common, but if nothing else is working and the shoulder is not healing on its own, a doctor may recommend surgery to remove scar tissue and adhesions from inside the shoulder joint. This surgery is typically done with lighted, tubular instruments inserted through small incisions around the joint (arthroscopically).

Frozen shoulder risk factors

Frozen shoulder risk factors can include people who have the following conditions:

  • Diabetes
  • Thyroid problems
  • Changes in hormones, like during menopause
  • Shoulder injury
  • Shoulder surgery
  • Open heart surgery
  • Cervical disk disease of the neck
  • Women 40 to 70 years old are most affected

If you are experiencing pain or discomfort from a frozen shoulder, contact an expert who will be able to provide medical assistance and get you the help you need. 

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