Frozen shoulder is a painful and restrictive condition of the shoulder. It’s also very frustrating because of how much it limits your day to day life and how slow it is to heal. It can make simple tasks like scratching your head or reaching for your back pocket impossible for some people. Milder cases may struggle to put on a jacket or reach for the bra strap on their back.
If left untreated it can take around 18 months to 2 years or more to recover. With a combination of osteopathic manipulative treatment and the Neil Asher Technique this can be greatly reduced by many months. The speed of recovery depends on which stage you seek treatment and if you have any other underlying shoulder issues.
What is frozen shoulder?
The medical term for frozen shoulder is adhesive capsulitis. Capsulitis means the joint capsule; which is like a ligament, is inflamed (-itis like in tendonitis). The adhesive part means it has got stuck together. So you have an inflamed sticky shoulder joint, which is very painful in the beginning, and can have scar tissue formation over time with severe limitation of shoulder mobility.
To move your hand into different positions, other areas such as your neck and trapezius muscles work harder and have to shrug your shoulder up. This can lead to associated pain and tension in the neck and upper back.
Who gets frozen shoulder?
Estimates vary but can be as much as 5% of the population, with women being affected more than men.
The exact cause isn’t fully understood but there appears to be some hormonal and endocrine factors involved. Examples include that it affects more women than men, most commonly comes on after 40 years old (sometimes it’s nicknamed 50’s shoulder because it often affects people in their 50’s), and if you have diabetes or a thyroid issue you may be two to four times as likely to get it, and it generally takes longer to recover.
If you’ve had a previous shoulder injury such as a rotator cuff strain or a period where your shoulder has be kept immobile for a period then this can be a predisposing factor.
Poor posture will also affect shoulder mobility in general and can put you at a higher risk of developing it and slow down your recovery.
What are the stages of frozen shoulder?
Frozen shoulder has been generally categorized into freezing, frozen and thawing stages. These stages have some overlap and the length of time in each stage often depends on the treatment but also the predisposing factors mentioned in the previous section.
Freezing stage – this is the most painful stage as the shoulder gradually becomes stiff and then very painful. Pain may be onset with movement but also at night making sleep very uncomfortable. This stage typically lasts 2-9 months
Frozen stage – this is the ‘adhesive’ stage, or when the shoulder is becoming most restricted. The stiffness increases, severely limiting range of motion. Generally the pain becomes more manageable but many movements will still be uncomfortable. This stage lasts around 4-12 months
Thawing stage – gradually the shoulder will regain it’s mobility and pain will reduce though still may be uncomfortable on occasion. This stage varies a lot and can last up to a couple of years (though I have seen some that have been left for longer!).
Treatment using a combination of osteopathy and NAT (Neil Asher Technique) reduces the overall recovery time by many months and improves strength and mobility.