What Is A Frozen Shoulder?

Your shoulder is the most mobile joint in your body, offering a range of motion that other body parts cannot come close to matching. Unfortunately, this greater mobility comes at the price of increased susceptibility. The shoulder has so many interdependent moving parts that it does not have much stability.

One injury that can result from this weakness in the joint is adhesive capsulitis, more commonly referred to as frozen shoulder because it causes the motion of the shoulder to become very limited. The loss in range of motion is often preceded by a gradual increase in pain. The condition can cause many daily tasks, such as reaching for a plate off a shelf, to become painful and strenuous.

Essentially, a frozen shoulder is the tightening and thickening of the tissue capsule around the ball and socket joint – the glenohumeral joint – of the shoulder. As the capsule becomes inflamed, scarring occurs and adhesions are formed, intruding upon the space needed for shoulder movement inside the joint, causing considerable pain and severely limiting motion.

Still, a detailed assessment by a doctor is needed before a frozen shoulder is diagnosed, as many other shoulder injuries include pain and loss of motion. The most advanced form of frozen shoulder typically restricts shoulder movement in all directions.

There are two types of frozen shoulder: primary adhesive capsulitis and secondary adhesive capsulitis. Secondary adhesive capsulitis develops from stiffness after a shoulder injury, surgery or lengthy immobilization. Primary adhesive capsulitis, on the other hand, does not have a recognizable or scientifically agreed upon cause. Possible factors include changes in the immune system, biochemical and hormonal imbalances as well as diabetes (individuals with diabetes are three times more likely to develop frozen shoulder) and some cardiovascular and neurological disorders.

A frozen shoulder typically will return to its normal capabilities after a period of recovery, which can last anywhere from five months to three years. However, a home stretching program and physical therapy can quicken the pace of recovery. Manipulation by a doctor while under anesthesia can help break up the adhesions over time, and in prolonged or severe cases, surgery is also an option. The choice of treatment is specific to each individual’s case.

With no single cause or treatment, a frozen shoulder can be a frustrating injury to cope with. An orthopaedist who specializes in shoulder injuries can help patients recover from a frozen shoulder and regain the ability to perform daily tasks without pain.

Kitchi Joyce is the Director of Administrative Services for Southern Orthopaedics Specialists, a full service Atlanta orthopedic practice specializing in orthopaedic surgery and sports medicine. Southern Orthopaedics Specialists has multiple locations around the Atlanta Metro area where doctors, physicians and medical staff patients live and perform at the peak of their physical ability. Decades of experience, education and research means that all branches of Atlanta orthopedics are covered, from cartilage restoration to spine care and sports medicine.

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