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Frozen Shoulder: Why It Happens and How to Treat It

You’ve probably heard of frozen shoulder, but what is it and how can you recover? Shoulders are the most mobile joint in the human body, and this mobility is essential to get full use of your hands and arms. There are many causes of shoulder pain, but when your mobility is limited by pain, tightness, or stiffness, it could be a sign you are suffering from frozen shoulder.

Let’s learn about why people get frozen shoulder and how to treat it.

What is Frozen Shoulder?

The shoulder is made up of three bones, surrounded by ligaments, tendons, and nerves. A joint capsule holds all of those parts together and keeps them in place. Frozen shoulder happens when that shoulder joint capsule thickens and tightens, causing pain when a person tries to move their shoulder. Some patients with frozen shoulder report increased pain at night, sometimes strong enough to interrupt their sleep.

It typically comes on gradually in most people. It has three stages that can each last several months:

  • Freezing Stage: the shoulder’s range of motion typically becomes more limited and using the shoulder becomes more painful
  • Frozen Stage: Pain might decrease, but range of motion and stiffness increase
  • Thawing Stage: Range of motion and ability to use the shoulder start to improve

How Can You Get It?

Frozen shoulder occurs for a variety of reasons, and there’s no one definitive reason why it happens to some people and not others. However, it does tend to be more prevalent in patients who have one or more of the following:

  • Over 40-years-old
  • Female
  • Rotator cuff injury
  • Broken arm
  • Stroke
  • Recovering from shoulder surgery – especially when patients do not follow their physical therapy plan.
  • Diabetes
  • Other diseases, including heart disease, thyroid disease, tuberculosis, and Parkinson’s

How Is Frozen Shoulder Diagnosed?
The doctors at the Colorado Center for Orthopaedic Excellence will determine whether you have frozen shoulder by discussing your symptoms and performing a physical examination. This can include asking you to move your shoulder and then gently manipulating it to determine your range of motion. Other tests may include an X-ray or MRI, but are not typically required to diagnose frozen shoulder.

How Is It Treated?

Treatment for most frozen shoulder sufferers involves stretching and physical therapy to help loosen and strengthen the joint. This typically helps increase range of motion and reduce stiffness. Regularly performing specific exercises recommended by a doctor or physical therapist is generally an effective treatment, although it can still take as long as three years to fully resolve.

Over-the-counter pain relievers, like aspirin or ibuprofen, can help decrease pain. But if the pain is more severe, your doctor might recommend a steroid injection or numbing medication.

If you don’t start feeling better over time or the condition does not improve, there are additional treatments. Some physicians may perform joint distention – injecting sterile water into the joint capsule to help stretch it out. Surgery is another course of treatment, but it is rarely necessary to treat frozen shoulder.

It is uncommon for frozen shoulder to return if the patient follows their treatment plan. However, contributing conditions like diabetes can make a recurrence more likely.

One of the most common causes of frozen shoulder is immobility, often after injury, surgery, or a stroke. If you are having a hard time moving your shoulder, talk to one of our specialists about diagnosis and treatment, including exercises to help maintain your range of motion and reduce your likelihood of getting it:

Dr. Doner

Dr. Kobayashi

Dr. Henderson

Dr. Martyak

Dr. Larsen

Dr. Purcell

Dr. Hollis

To make an appointment or learn more, click here.

How to Deal with an Orthopedic Emergency While at Work

Just because you sit at a desk all day doesn’t mean you can’t experience an orthopedic emergency on the job. Hazards are everywhere! Slipping over spilled coffee; straining your back while lifting a box of printer paper; suddenly experiencing frozen shoulder. So just because you aren’t a lumberjack or longshoreman doesn’t mean that you are immune from experiencing an orthopedic while at work. Here’s how you can deal with it should it happen to you.

Triage Yourself

The first thing to do is assess the severity of your condition. Is it an orthopedic emergency? In other words, might you need to go to urgent care or the emergency room, or can it wait to for an appointment with your orthopedist? Here are a few examples of what may be considered an orthopedic emergency.

·      Following an orthopedic procedure such as a hip replacement knee surgery, you are experiencing shortness of breath, chest pain, and coughing – all of which may indicate a blood clot in the lungs.

·      Following surgery on a lower extremity, pain and swelling in the calf. This could indicate thrombosis that might become a deadly embolus in the lung.

·      A post-operative wound that starts to drain spontaneously.

·      Following joint replacement surgery, a painfully swollen joint that accompanied by fever and/or chills, which could indicate an infection.

·      If you are in a solid cast, pain, swelling and numbness in the fingers or toes. This is known as cast compression syndrome.

·      Following lumbar spine surgery or an epidural spinal injection, severe back pain along with weakness in the legs and difficulty empting your bladder. This could indicate internal bleeding around the spinal cord.

·      Following orthopedic surgery, an accidental fall or twist of a post-operative limb followed by a noticeable increase in pain. This could indicate several things, to include a change in the fixation of a fracture, a new fracture, or – if you’ve recently had a total hip replacement – a dislocation of the hip joint.

·      Groin or thigh pain followed by an inability to walk. This could indicate an osteoporotic fracture of the hip.

Emergencies that are not post-operative

Other orthopedic emergencies that could happen at work include a broken or fractured arm or leg, a dislocated shoulder, or a sprain or strain. If you are able to move, seek medical attention right away. If you can’t move, have emergency medical attention come to you. Many offices have emergency medical personnel on standby; if you don’t be sure to clear a path so responders can come. Bring your purse and cell phone with or have a colleague accompany you as you may be laid up for a while.

If your orthopedic emergency happens on the job and is work-related, be sure to capture all the data – place, witnesses, photographs – in case you need to file a workman’s compensation claim.

If you experience any sort of head trauma such as a concussion, see a medical professional immediately.

In the event of an orthopedic emergency, don’t hesitate to visit – or have someone transport you – to an orthopedic urgent care facility. There, you can receive immediate care, as opposed to a hospital emergency room where it may take time to see an orthopedic specialist.

Colorado Center of Orthopaedic Excellence in Colorado Springs provides its patients with optimal comprehensive orthopedic care and primary care (non-operative) sports medicine on an urgent care basis. Whether you have an orthopedic emergency at work, home or in the field, our specialists are readily available to provide you with world-class care and service. Our board-certified orthopedic surgeons will diagnose the condition and explain your treatment options. Call us at (719) 623-1050 today for an appointment.