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What is frozen shoulder?

Thursday, May. 18, 2023
Senior woman reaching to high shelf of bookcase

When Mrs. A.* was diagnosed with frozen shoulder, she was in so much pain that she struggled to reach the top shelves of her bookcase to grab her favourite books. Frozen shoulder is a painful condition that can severely restrict movement of the shoulder. Simple activities such as washing, dressing, walking the dog, reaching the top shelf for a cup, or even brushing your hair can become difficult and painful.  It is caused by swelling and scar tissue that build up around the joint and reduce movement.  It is more common in women between the ages of 40-70, particularly with a history of diabetes or thyroid problems. For Mrs. A., it was the lack of movement over a long period of time that caused her frozen shoulder. 

Mrs. A.’s frozen shoulder developed over time as this type of injury often goes through three distinct phases:  
1. Freezing stage: Mrs. A. experienced sharp pain especially when moving the affected shoulder in certain directions. She also noticed the gradual stiffening of her shoulder joint. This phase can last 3-6 months. 
2. Frozen stage: During this time, Mrs. A. noticed that while her  pain had reduced, movement is still extremely limited. This phase can last up to 12 months. 
3. Thawing stage: As the pain continued to subside, Mrs. A.’s movement began to return. She did experience some lingering shoulder weakness, that is extremely common due to lack of use in the first two stages. This phase can last 12-24 months. 
While there is no ‘cure’ for frozen shoulder, motion is lotion! It is vital to maintain as much movement as possible. Mrs. A.’s treatment involved consistent, yet gentle progressive stretching program; making sure to remain within her pain tolerance level. 

Do you relate to Mrs. A.? If you are experiencing similar shoulder symptoms, it is important to have it looked at by a trained heath care practitioner to help guide you and work with you for the best results.  
Physiotherapists and other health care practitioners can assess and identify the stage you are in. They can then provide you with pain management treatments and create an individualized rehabilitation program for your shoulder. 
There is research that suggests there is a 10% increase in risk of developing frozen shoulder on the opposite side once you have had on one side. Therefore, it is important to increase strength and continue movement in both shoulders as well. 
Mrs. A’s shoulder continues to heal, and she can now easily reach the top shelf to grab her favourite books.  

If you would like to schedule an appointment with a physiotherapist to assess your shoulder pain, check out our locations page to find a Lifemark clinician near you. 


*Names in this article have been changed. 

Note: This blog article was originally posted on Active Physio Works, a division of Lifemark. 

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