Frozen Shoulder / Adhesive Capsulitis

What is ‘Frozen Shoulder’?

Also referred to as adhesive capsulitis, Frozen Shoulder affects approximately 2% of the general population. It is a disorder in which there is thickening and contraction of the soft tissues surrounding the shoulder joint (the joint capsule and synovium). This greatly restricts range of motion and causes chronic pain.

Adhesive capsulitis is generally described as a condition of three stages; the painful stage, the freezing stage, and the thawing stage.

The ‘painful’ stage describes the gradual onset of shoulder pain. It is not generally  accompanied by a restriction in movement, and usually lasts around 2-3 months.

The ‘freezing’ stage is characterised by significant loss of movement in the affected shoulder. During this stage pain may or may not subside partially or completely. This stage generally lasts around 4-6 months.

In the ‘thawing’ stage there is a gradual reduction in pain and normalisation of movement of the affected shoulder. It is currently unknown what causes the spontaneous recovery experienced during this stage of a frozen shoulder. The thawing process typically takes 6 to 12 months.

What causes a ‘Frozen Shoulder’?

The cause of adhesive capsulitis is largely unknown, however there are some risk factors which increase a person’s likelihood of developing the condition. These risk factors include diabetes, chronic inflammatory arthritis of the shoulder, previous chest or breast surgery, and any previous shoulder injury such as tendonitis, bursitis or rotator cuff injury. Other factors such as a family history of adhesive capsulitis and an individual having already had a frozen shoulder in the past contribute to a person’s risk of developing the condition.

What are the signs of a frozen shoulder?

  • Restricted active and passive range of motion
  • Tightness of shoulder structures
  • Minimal findings in a patient’s history or xrays

What are the symptoms of a frozen shoulder?

  • Slow onset of shoulder pain (usually dull, aching)
  • Pain usually worst at night
  • May experience a burning pain into the arm but usually not passed the elbow
  • Difficulty with activities such as brushing hair, putting on shirts/bras

How can a physiotherapist help you?

Physiotherapists are experts in musculoskeletal conditions such as adhesive capsulitis. They can assist you by performing treatment options such as soft tissue and deep tissue massage to help release tightened structures, and joint mobilisation. Our Physiotherapists can also offer advice on other treatment options such as hydrodilatation or surgery if conservative treatment techniques are not successful.

Additionally, our Physiotherapists can provide you with information regarding exercises to do at home to help with the recovery of your frozen shoulder. Such exercises may be aimed at strengthening shoulder muscles by using bands or weights, or improving shoulder movement with stretches, pulleys and hydrotherapy.

To make an appointment, please contact your nearest Integrated Health clinic.