Frozen Shoulder – Symptoms and Treatments

shoulder deep tissue massage Physiotherapy in London

So, you think you have a frozen shoulder. What should you do next? In this comprehensive guide, we’ll help you understand what frozen shoulder is, its causes and risk factors, and how it can sometimes be confused with other shoulder conditions. We’ll also delve into how our One Body physiotherapists can help diagnose and treat frozen shoulder, detailing various treatment options and essential dos and don’ts. 

Whether you’re experiencing symptoms or seeking prevention tips, this article provides valuable insights for managing frozen shoulder effectively. And don’t forget, you can book a physiotherapy session with our London physiotherapists for personal advice too!

What is a Frozen Shoulder?

Let’s go back to basics.

Frozen shoulder is also known as adhesive capsulitis. When you have a frozen shoulder, the connective tissue surrounding the shoulder joint, known as the shoulder capsule, becomes thickened and tight. As a result, scar tissue forms, and the shoulder joint’s movement becomes restricted. 

adhesive capsulitis physio Physiotherapy in London

Frozen shoulder can develop for several reasons, and understanding these can help us in managing and preventing the condition. Here are some common causes:

  • Idiopathic: Often, frozen shoulder develops without a clear reason. This is referred to as idiopathic frozen shoulder.
  • Post-Surgery: Sometimes, frozen shoulder occurs after surgical procedures, particularly those involving the shoulder or chest.
  • Post-Injury: Shoulder injuries, such as fractures or rotator cuff tears, can lead to the development of frozen shoulder.

Several risk factors increase the likelihood of developing frozen shoulder too:

  • Age and Gender: People between the ages of 40 and 60, especially women, are more likely to develop the condition.
  • Diabetes: Individuals with diabetes have a higher risk of developing frozen shoulder.
  • Immobility: Prolonged immobility of the shoulder due to surgery, injury, or illness can increase the risk.
  • Systemic Conditions: Conditions such as thyroid disorders, cardiovascular disease, and Parkinson’s disease can also be associated with frozen shoulder.

Symptoms

Frozen shoulder presents with stiffness and pain in one shoulder. You may be unable to move your arm freely – it will “freeze” with limited range of motion. This condition progresses through three stages: freezing, frozen, and thawing, each with varying degrees of pain and stiffness.

  • Freezing stage: you’ll experience a gradual onset of pain, especially when moving your arm to extremes. You might also have trouble sleeping as a result.
  • Frozen stage: your range of motion is drastically reduced and you may not be able to move your arm in some directions. The pain is now only present when moving your arm to extremes.
  • Thawing stage: your shoulder will thaw sporadically, gradually increasing your range of motion over several months (or years in some cases).

The problem is that frozen shoulder can sometimes be confused with other shoulder pathologies like rotator cuff injuries, bursitis, or shoulder impingement. These conditions can share similar symptoms, such as pain and restricted movement.

This is why getting a diagnosis is important. Did you know that physiotherapists in the UK are registered, licensed and fully able to give you a diagnosis? Learn more about this below.

Do’s and Don’ts for a Frozen Shoulder

First, it goes without saying that you should follow your doctor’s or physiotherapist’s instructions! However, if you are still waiting for an appointment, here are some do’s and don’ts to keep in mind.

Do

  • Try to stay active without pushing the limits
  • Use hot and cold compresses to deal with any pain.
  • Maintain good posture – keep your shoulders aligned as much as possible to prevent straining your good shoulder too!

Manage your pain and move your arm as much as feels comfortable. This will keep stiffness to a minimum.

Don’t

  • Keep your shoulder completely still or stop using your arm completely.
  • Self-diagnose with frozen shoulder or another condition without a proper assessment.
  • Ignore any pain or try to push through it.

The key is to get a diagnosis. In the meantime, move mindfully rather than becoming entirely immobile.

physiotherapy london frozen shoulder pain Physiotherapy in London

When to See a Physiotherapist

It can be tempting to self-diagnose your frozen shoulder – if you’ve got a stiff and painful shoulder, what else could it be? But you shouldn’t fall into this trap. There are other shoulder conditions that could be the cause of your symptoms.

The best time to visit a physiotherapist is when you notice ongoing symptoms that aren’t healed with a good night’s rest in a comfortable position.

A physiotherapist can help accurately diagnose frozen shoulder through a comprehensive assessment. This typically involves a detailed medical history, physical examination (observing your posture and range of movement), and sometimes imaging tests. 

Our highly experienced physiotherapists create unique treatment plans to suit the symptoms and abilities of each of our patients. Typically, the treatment is made up of manual therapy in one of our state-of-the-art London clinics and some exercises that you need to practise at home.

Your treatment is also determined by what stage of frozen shoulder you are in.

Manual Therapy

Manual therapy refers to the hands-on techniques a therapist can use to treat your condition. This can involve massage, joint mobilisation, tissue manipulation and myofascial release.

  • Freezing stage: massage might be used to reduce pain and we may recommend applying hot or cold packs to the area to reduce discomfort.
  • Frozen stage: we might use muscle release techniques and explore acupuncture to encourage a wider range of motion.
  • Thawing stage: if you are experiencing any pain or soreness from the exercises we prescribe, we might offer a massage to loosen the muscles and scar tissue. However, at this stage, exercise is the most beneficial treatment.

Exercises

Physiotherapy exercises are used to increase your range of motion and rebuild strength. This is an important part of rehabilitation and, even though it may be frustrating, we need you to move your arm!

  • Freezing stage: gentle shoulder mobilisation is key here. We’ll show you how to hold positions that stretch your shoulder for a few seconds. These stretches are performed a few times per day.
  • Frozen stage: we’ll take you through exercises that gently strengthen your arm and encourage movement. It’s important to not push too hard at this stage.
  • Thawing stage: this stage is where exercise is the most beneficial. Using a pulley or weights, we will gradually increase your range of motion and strengthen your shoulder.

Education and Encouragement

A frozen shoulder can be excruciating and not just in a painful way. Having limited mobility in one arm can significantly reduce your quality of life and prevent you from doing the hobbies and pastimes you enjoy – it may even impact your career.

Your physiotherapist can help you, but you must follow their advice. Giving up on exercises, stretching too far, or trying to move before your range of motion allows it, can hinder the recovery process. It’s also important to note that while physiotherapy can be extremely helpful in reducing pain and improving your range of motion, there are some rare cases where the full range of motion is never recovered. 

During regular sessions, you’ll have the chance to discuss your frustrations and concerns with your physiotherapist and find new ways to cope. Physiotherapy is all about restoring your body’s full function and independence!

London Physiotherapy at One Body

Whether you go to the NHS or come straight to one of our London clinics, physiotherapy is the recommended approach to effectively reduce pain and improve range of motion for those suffering from frozen shoulder. With targeted treatments and professional guidance from a physio, you can recover and return to your normal activities as quickly (and safely) as possible. 

At One Body, our modern and conveniently located clinics across London are equipped to provide the highest standard of care. Our experienced physiotherapists are practised in musculoskeletal physiotherapy and are dedicated to helping you regain shoulder function. Our physio is here to improve your quality of life! 

You can even use your private health insurance to cover the cost, ensuring your treatment is accessible and efficient. Book an appointment today to start your journey towards recovery.

FAQs

Can you cure a frozen shoulder quickly?

Unfortunately, a frozen shoulder can take months (sometimes years) to heal and in some cases the full range of motion in the arm will never return. Physiotherapy can speed up recovery, however, particularly in the “thawing” stage.

How can I sleep with a frozen shoulder?

Sleep on your side with your healthy arm underneath you. To sleep on your back, prop up the affected arm on a pillow. Hot or cold compresses can be useful, or you can try over-the-counter pain medication.

Can a physiotherapist treat a frozen shoulder?

Yes, physiotherapists are licensed and registered in the UK to provide a diagnosis and treatment for a frozen shoulder. Physiotherapy is often recommended as part of the recovery process.

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