What Is Frozen Shoulder?

Adhesive capsulitis happens when the synovial membrane in the shoulder swells, thickens, and contracts. A recent study reveals that 3-5% of the population experiences symptoms related to frozen shoulder every year. The membrane swells in size, subsequently leaving less room for the upper arm and shoulder to move freely. Increased friction and lowered range of motion lead to pain and discomfort for the patient, becoming less mobile as the inflammatory process continues. Patients with preexisting inflammatory conditions such as diabetes or thyroid disorders are more likely to develop adhesive capsulitis. While many patients can manage symptoms with physical therapy, surgical intervention may be necessary if the body does not respond to a combination of stretching and medication.

The first line of defense: stretching

While surgery may be necessary for unresponsive or extreme cases of frozen shoulder, healthcare experts recommend first treating the immobile joint with nonsurgical interventions. Some doctors recommend a mixture of medication and physical therapy, focusing on progressive stretching to restore range of motion. Oral anti-inflammatories, pain medication, and corticosteroid injections may be prescribed to manage pain levels and boost flexibility in the shoulder joint. If caught early, many cases of adhesive capsulitis are managed effectively with nonsurgical treatment options.

Is surgery right for you?

If the shoulder does not respond to nonsurgical treatment, the next step is surgical intervention. With manipulation under anesthesia, doctors force movement of the shoulder while the patient is asleep. Causing the joint capsule to tear or loosen, many patients experience an improved range of motion following the procedure. Physicians also perform shoulder arthroscopies, which involve cutting through the frozen capsule with small instruments inserted through cuts in the shoulder. Many experts suggest using both surgical techniques to maximize mobility for the patient.

Regaining movement and motion

While countless Americans suffer from adhesive capsulitis, a combination of surgical intervention and physical therapy allows many people to recover both mobility and an overall range of motion. Stretching before surgical intervention allows patients to expand the joint capsule before building back strength. In less extreme cases of frozen shoulder, medication and physical therapy are all that’s needed to regain movement in the upper arm and shoulder. If surgery is required, a robust treatment plan after surgery must include a comprehensive physical therapy roadmap, using gradual motion to restore motion to the shoulder.