4 treatment options for a frozen shoulder

workout of frozen shoulder
While the fastest way to heal a frozen shoulder differs among people, treatment may include physical therapy, painkillers, local therapy, and surgery.

The fastest way to heal a frozen shoulder differs among people. What works for other people may not work for you. This is because each person will present with a difference in the severity of the condition and symptoms.

Your doctor will assess your condition and suggest the best treatment for you, which will involve one or more of the following treatments:

Physical therapy

  • Physical therapy for a frozen shoulder involves exercises that improve the range of motion at the shoulder.
  • Exercises for a frozen shoulder can be classified into two types, namely, stretching and strengthening exercises.
  • Always do warm-up sessions before you perform the exercises. You may take a warm shower or use a heating pad for the purpose.
  • While performing these exercises, perform only till the point when you experience mild pain. Do not go beyond that.

Stretching exercises for a frozen shoulder:

  • Pendulum stretch:
    • Relax your shoulders.
    • Lean forward a bit so that your affected shoulder hangs down by your side.
    • Move the shoulder sideways and forward and backward—like the pendulum of a clock.
    • You can take the arm as far as it can go with only mild pain. As symptoms improve, you can improve the range of your motion gradually and add weights too.
  • Towel stretch:
    • Hold a medium-sized (nearly three-feet long) towel tightly in a horizontal position with both your hands behind your back.
    • Pull the affected arm upward with your good arm to stretch it.
  • Finger walk:
    • Stand facing the wall at about two feet from the wall.
    • Stretch your arms toward the wall and walk your fingers up the wall as high as you can.
    • Slowly lower the arm, if needed, with the help of the good arm.

Strengthening exercises:

After stretching exercises improve your range of motion, your physical therapist will most likely suggest you add rotator cuff–strengthening exercises. However, perform strengthening exercises only after the warm-up with stretching exercises.

Initially, a physical therapist will assist you and teach you how to perform.

Painkiller medications

  • Your doctor may recommend an anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen, acetaminophen, or naproxen.
  • These medications make movements less painful for you to carry out your routine activities with ease and should only be taken under the doctor’s supervision.
  • Painkiller overuse may affect your liver and kidney functions in the long run.

Local therapy

  • Ice pack:
    • An ice pack or a bag of frozen peas applied to the shoulder for 10 to 15 minutes about four to five times a day can help with the pain.
  • Corticosteroid injection:
    • If exercises and painkiller medications fail to provide relief from a frozen shoulder, your doctor may administer an injection containing corticosteroid into your shoulder or nearby soft tissue.
  • Acupuncture:
    • Acupuncture is a treatment of choice, an alternative form of treatment that you can try for your frozen shoulder pain.
    • It involves inserting small, fine needles for 15 to 40 minutes around specific points in or around your shoulder.
  • Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS):
    • TENS involves the use of tiny electrical current delivered to key points on a nerve pathway that is responsible for pain in the frozen shoulder.
    • The current is delivered through tiny electrodes taped on your skin.
    • The procedure is typically painless and is thought to work by blocking the impulses that give rise to pain.

Surgical and other procedures

Most frozen shoulders improve on their own within 12 to 18 months. If the symptoms do not go away with the above treatment options, you may need to undergo surgery or other procedures that include:

  • Joint distension (or hydrodilatation): Joint distension involves an injection of sterile water into the joint to loosen the structures responsible for the frozen shoulder.
  • Shoulder manipulation: The doctor injects a local anesthetic into the affected shoulder to make it numb and make the procedure less painful. Next, they move the shoulder in various directions to loosen the tightened tissue.
  • Surgery: Surgery for a frozen shoulder is rare but can be the last option in selected people who are ready to undergo the surgery for quick and long-lasting pain relief. It involves inserting a lighted, tube-like camera through tiny incisions into your shoulder to loosen or remove the band of tightened tissue.

What causes a frozen shoulder?

The exact cause of a frozen shoulder is not always clear.

A frozen shoulder results from inflammation of the tissue that surrounds your shoulder. Over time, the tissue shrinks and becomes tight, causing painful and restricted shoulder movements.

A frozen shoulder can be caused by:

  • An injury or a surgery that restricts the movements of your shoulders.
  • Diabetes (how diabetes causes a frozen shoulder remains unknown).

What are the symptoms of a frozen shoulder?

The main symptoms of a frozen shoulder include stiffness and painful movements of the shoulder, which limits the range of motion at the shoulder.

Pain may start as dull or achy pain, but then become so severe that it may be felt at night.

How to diagnose a frozen shoulder

Doctors typically arrive at the diagnosis of a frozen shoulder by taking your medical history, asking for symptoms, and performing a physical examination.

  • During the physical exam, your doctor will look for pain while asking you to move the shoulder in all directions.
  • They may move your shoulders passively to assess the range of motion.
  • They might inject your shoulder with numbing medicine (anesthetic) before testing the movements.

Usually, no imaging testing is necessary. However, your doctor may order tests such as an X-ray or magnetic resonance imaging to rule out other problems that may be responsible for the pain and stiffness in the shoulder.

How long does it take to recover from a frozen shoulder?

It usually takes several months to as long as three years to recover from a frozen shoulder. Most people recover within one to one and a half years.

Faster recovery from a frozen shoulder needs not only medical treatment but also certain precautions from your end, for example, avoiding any activities that require overhead reaching, lifting, pulling, or anything else that aggravates your pain.

If you are performing your frozen shoulder exercises regularly and properly, there is a 90 percent chance that you will be able to resume all your earlier activities in a few months.

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Medically Reviewed on 12/1/2021
References
Image Source: iStock Images

Adhesive Capsulitis (Frozen Shoulder). https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1261598-overview