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Frozen Shoulder Syndrome

Also known as adhesive capsulitis, a frozen shoulder causes pain and stiffness in the shoulder. Here is a HealthHearty article that will give you in-depth information about its causes and symptoms.
HealthHearty Staff
Last Updated: Feb 28, 2018
A painful and debilitating condition of the shoulder, which is characterized by pain and severe stiffness is known as frozen shoulder syndrome. The medical term used to describe this condition is adhesive capsulitis. The term 'adhesive' means sticky and 'capsulitis' stands for inflammation of the joint capsule. This condition affects two percent of the general population. It is normally not caused due to any underlying disease.
Anatomy of Shoulder
Our shoulder is a ball-and-socket joint which is made up of 3 bones.
  1. Humerus (upper arm bone)
  2. Scapula (shoulder blade)
  3. Collarbone (clavicle)
In order to keep your shoulder from moving freely and with ease, the synovial fluid lubricates the shoulder capsule and the joint.
What is Frozen Shoulder
It is a condition where an individual finds it difficult to move his/her shoulder properly. This condition usually affects on either side. In rare cases, the problem also affects the other shoulder as well; the ratio of which is 1:5. This condition affects the shoulder capsule within the shoulder joint. It is strange, but commonly observed that once cured, it never affects the same shoulder again.
The condition can develop when an individual stops using the joint. This usually occurs if the joint is paining, there was some sort of injury experienced, or perhaps there is a chronic health condition like diabetes or stroke. Basically, any type of shoulder-related injury can lead to frozen shoulder, and if you don't keep the joint working properly, the condition can worsen.
Although it is very difficult to pinpoint the exact cause, there is inflammation caused to the lining of the joint capsule, which in turn leads to formation of the scar tissue. Due to scar tissue, there is less space for the arm bone to move, which restricts the movement of the arm joint.
If you have diabetes, especially insulin-dependent diabetes, it may be caused due to sticking of the glucose molecules to the collagen fibers in the joint capsule. This often leads to stiffness. Hence, the diabetics are more prone to suffer from it in both their shoulders. If the syndrome affects a woman in her menopausal period, it should be linked to the hormonal changes at the time. Poor posture can cause shortening of the ligaments which in turn causes the condition. If the arm capsule has been immobile for an extended period of time due to injury, such as a fracture, it can lead to frozen shoulder.
The syndrome is divided under three phases, hence the symptoms of each of these phase differ.
  1. The first is the painful phase, where there is a gradual onset of aching shoulder. The pain can develop and is widespread. It usually worsens in the night or when lying on the affected shoulder side.
  2. The second phase is the stiffening phase where the stiffness starts to become a problem. The pain level does not change, but there is difficulty in normal daily tasks such as dressing, combing hair, carrying bags, working on the computer, etc. Often times, muscle wastage is seen in this phase because the muscle isn't being worked/used.
  3. In the third phase, the range of motion sees gradual, yet slow improvement. There is also gradual decrease in pain. In some cases, the pain can stage a comeback, when stiffness decreases.
The most important tip to remember is to move the shoulder as much as possible. If you are facing any difficulties, you may want to do it in front of your health care professional. Normally, doctors will prescribe anti-inflammatory medicine to reduce the inflammation. The next step is to make you undergo a course of physiotherapy. In this course, the physiotherapist will ask you to perform specific exercises. You will have to do these exercises diligently. If the shoulder is not responding to any treatment, surgery will be the last option the doctor will advise.
This syndrome can sometimes affect the person for as long as 30 months. Although it is debilitating condition and can cause tremendous amount of discomfort, it is totally curable and like we previously mentioned, seldom does it affect the same shoulder again.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.
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