Frozen shoulder – How to let it go

A chilly explanation

So what exactly is frozen shoulder? Current research suggests it is characterized by a change in the joint capsule and certain ligaments within the shoulder causing them to lose their elasticity and become very stiff hence the term ‘frozen’. The pain may be a result of the inflammatory process and the chemicals released while this is happening. But it could also be attributed to a host of other causes.

  (Source: MMG, Inc. 1996)

(Source: MMG, Inc. 1996)

Diagnosis - the cold facts

  • Did the pain came on gradually in the shoulder or upper arm with no significant trauma?
  • Is the range of movement reduced - notably into flexion (straight up in front) and external rotation (with the elbow bent at the side, rotating outwards) even with someone assisting you with those movements?
  • Are you unable to lie on the side of your affected shoulder?
  • Did the pain run in a pattern from “pain-predominant” - where it is more painful than stiff, to "stiffness-predominant” where it is more stiff than painful?
  • Have you had an X-ray that cleared the pain of other possible diagnoses?
 UFIT Senior Physiotherapist Daniel working on restoring shoulder mobility with a client.

UFIT Senior Physiotherapist Daniel working on restoring shoulder mobility with a client.

Frozen shoulder is technically a diagnosis of elimination. If you are showing the signs and symptoms, our investigation must eliminate all other likely reasons for the frozen shoulder diagnosis to be accurate. For example, Elsa is experiencing terrible shoulder pain, and is unable to lift up her arm, rotate it out to the side, or lie on it.  But after getting an X-ray, she discovered that the pain is actually caused by a joint fracture and rotator cuff tear, with the same symptoms of a frozen shoulder.

Osteoarthritis, joint fractures, rotator cuff tears, and shoulder dislocations all produce similar signs and symptoms. So if you suspect your shoulder pain might be due to a frozen shoulder, make sure you see your doctor to rule out other possible causes.

Don’t be a snowflake, get expert advice

If you suspect you have frozen shoulder, get down to see your doctor or a physiotherapist and get it checked out. It is uncommon to require a surgical intervention, as studies have shown that conservative measures such as a graded exercise program produce the best results. However, there may be other things the doctor can recommend to ease the pain.

If you've already been diagnosed with a frozen shoulder, the best advice would be to see a physiotherapist, who will recommend an individualized rehabilitation program to guide you through the stages of your condition.

 Don't self diagnose - see an expert if you are experiencing pain!

Don't self diagnose - see an expert if you are experiencing pain!

In the meantime don’t freeze, do something about it

Learn how to manage the pain. Pain is a very complicated and multi-faceted phenomenon. Understanding how and why we feel pain will help you to deal with it.

Modify your activities. This can be as simple as switching the hand you use to reach for the seat-belt. List down all the activities that causes discomfort to your shoulder, and try to think of different ways you can modify the activity. This will save you  from a world of discomfort.

Get more pillows for the bed. If it is uncomfortable to sleep at night, prop your upper back and arm up with pillows so that you can get a better quality of rest.

Exercise. Gentle exercises such as "hanging shoulder rolls" and the "pendulum arm swing" can help to relieve the discomfort, and is also a good way to kickstart your journey to regain full range of movement.

Be patient, and pace yourself. If you try to rush and overdo the rehabilitative work, it may negatively affect your condition tomorrow. So be conscious of your abilities to avoid aggravating the pain.

About the author

Daniel_Arthur+physio.jpg

Daniel Arthur is a Senior Physiotherapist from the UK currently working at UFIT Clinic in One North. He brings over 8 years of experience working with the UK National Health Service, private health clinics and premiership sports clubs.

Instagram – Thefightingphysio