What is Frozen Shoulder?


Frozen shoulder (also called adhesive capsulitis) is a painful and disabling condition that affects the connective tissue capsule surrounding the glenohumeral joint of the shoulder. Movement of the shoulder is severely restricted with gradual loss of both active and passive motion. Pain is severe and constant, worse at night especially when lying still while trivial “knocks” cause tremendous pain and cramping. Aside from the severe pain, people with frozen shoulder suffer sleep deprivation for long periods that often leads to depression and other neck and back problems.

The capsule surrounding the shoulder joint becomes thickened and inflamed and becomes tight around the joint, restricting its movement. Causes are unknown, however, current evidence shows that people who have or who are at risk of having diabetes and those who have recently had to immobilise their shoulder (arm fracture etc.) are considered high risk. An incorrect diagnosis of frozen shoulder can often be made for a range of shoulder problems including rotator cuff / impingement syndromes, all of which are very common conditions that can be successfully resolved with simple treatment and advice.

Frozen Shoulder Symptoms

People with frozen shoulder are unable to:

  • lift their arm above shoulder height
  • sleep on affected shoulder
  • reach behind back
  • reach out to the side (e.g., seat belt)

The normal course of frozen shoulder is described in three stages

Freezing stage
Symptoms typically begin with all movement of the shoulder causes pain over a period of 4 -6 months and where all ranges of motion become markedly limited.

Frozen stage
Pain begins to ease during this stage, but where the shoulder becomes stiffer and becomes more difficult to use in daily activities.

Thawing stage
The range of motion in the shoulder begins to improve, however the stiffness can persist

How can treatment help?

Frozen shoulder treatment is directed towards trigger points that develop on in certain regions of the cuff of muscles and the capsule surrounding the shoulder joint. Next, treatment focuses on improving the range of motion.

Initial treatments address inflammation in both the rotator cuff that surrounds the capsule, followed by the capsule itself. All treatment is done with the patient and the effected shoulder in a comfortable position. 

Each treatment involves both direct work to the shoulder and work on other body areas that are known to mechanically influence the shoulders. Decreases in pain severity are often seen after the second or third treatment, after-which the patient can start to think about returning to a normal routine.

Each treatment last 30 – 45 minutes.

Contact our Osteopath for an individual frozen shoulder treatment program

  • Dr Philip Austin Osteopath

    Meet Dr Philip Austin, one of our highly experienced and skilled Osteopaths. Phil’s key areas of expertise are in treating musculo-skeletal pain including back, neck and shoulder pain, tension headaches and frozen shoulder. He also consults to our corporate clients in ergonomics. Phil has a PhD in Pain Medicine and offers effective treatment and information to get your pain under control.

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