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What is a Frozen Shoulder?

By Mira Boeyens, Physiotherapist and Yoga and Pilates Instructor

It’s very likely that at some point you’ve heard about, been told about, or known someone that’s struggled with adhesive capsulitis, more commonly known as frozen shoulder.

A frozen shoulder is not simply a stiff shoulder, but an inflammatory condition that affects the capsule of the shoulder joint. The capsule becomes inflamed, dehydrated and stiff, which in turn causes varying levels of pain and stiffness in your shoulder joint itself.  

The cause is still not fully understood, however, we do know that certain individuals are more susceptible. Women and those who have had a traumatic shoulder injury, as well as individuals with thyroid problems, diabetes and/or cardiac issues have a higher incidence of developing it than others. 

Frozen shoulder runs through three phases until it resolves. The first is the “freezing” phase, where the shoulder is not yet that stiff, but one has developed substantial pain. The second is the “frozen phase”, where there is pain present and the shoulder becomes very stiff. Daily activities become challenging and outward rotation of the arm becomes noticeably reduced. The “thawing” phase is the last, where the pain is much reduced but lingering stiffness remains. The good news is that it does resolve, however, it can, unfortunately, take up to 18 months.

The role we play as physiotherapists at Auckland Physiotherapy is multifaceted. Frozen shoulders are unfortunately often misdiagnosed which leads to mismanagement. We will ensure you are correctly diagnosed, we will consult you to obtain a comprehensive history, perform special physical tests and potentially order x-rays and an ultrasound to exclude any other potential issues.

Once the diagnosis is confirmed, we may advise a joint injection to manage severe pain, especially if the pain is pronounced during the night (the effects of the injection last for around 3 months). Additionally, we perform and implement physiotherapy techniques, including hands-on joint mobilisations and carefully prescribed home exercise programmes to restore your movement, strength and function. We strive to ensure optimal outcomes are reached. 

Frozen shoulders may take a prolonged time to heal, but our team will guide and support you to ensure your optimal recovery!

If you think you might be experiencing a frozen shoulder, book in with our physiotherapists so that we can help you on your road to recovery.

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