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The term ‘frozen shoulder’, or adhesive capsulitis as it is medically termed, sounds rather unpleasant doesn’t it?  But what actually is it?  Why do they call it frozen shoulder?

The best way to understand it is to think of a shoulder which has become very stiff and restricted – the range of movement in your shoulder is significantly lessened, sometimes by more than 50%.  This is obviously pretty inconvenient and demands that you learn to become ambidextrous temporarily!  It is also a painful condition.

What actually is it?

In frozen shoulder the joint is experiencing a low-grade, long-standing inflammation which is usually the result of a combination of different chemical processes.  Some say that because we aren’t really using our shoulders as they were evolved to be used (i.e. we aren’t exactly out throwing spears!) inflammation is allowed to build up in the shoulder, leading to this problem.  It is also understood that stress (physical or emotional) can be involved through its impact on the immune system.

Who gets it?

Frozen shoulder is most common in people over 40…  in fact in Japan and China it’s referred to as ’50-year old shoulder’.  It affects 1 in 20 people and is more prevalent in women. The most common risk factors are diabetes and cardiovascular disease –  these people tend to have more insulin and fats in their bloodstream which may fuel the inflammation in the shoulder.   Most of the time it comes out of the blue and starts for no apparent reason, but it can also be triggered by an injury or after prolonged stillness (such as after surgery).

How long does it last?

Frozen shoulder is self-limiting, meaning it will get better on its own once it has run its course.  Unfortunately this can be a long time – typically at least a year and possibly up to 3 years, but most often 18-30 months.

What can I do about it?

In terms of lowering your risk of developing frozen shoulder – the main things should be to look after your lifestyle (your diet and exercise mostly).  It’s also key for the over 40s particularly to be using and moving their shoulder in its full range regularly.  Stretch out, reach and get your shoulder working for you!

For those of you who may be suffering with the problem, your treatment often depends on how painful the shoulder is.  If you’re getting a lot of pain it’s wise not to put too much pressure on it to move outside a comfortable range.  Treatment at this stage is focussed on pain relief which may include painkillers, heat/ ice or sometimes an injection.

After the pain has settled and the shoulder is mostly just stiff, treatment by your osteopath or physiotherapist is advised.  We can encourage more movement in the shoulder and get it working with greater ease.  Certain exercises will help to improve the movement you have.

For further advice or an assessment on your shoulder don’t hesitate to give us a call!