Frozen shoulder (more formally known as adhesive capsulitis) occurs when the tissue of the joint capsule in your shoulder swells and thickens, causing pain and a reduction in range of movement. It can occur in one or both shoulders, or sometimes even move between one and the other. The cause of frozen shoulder is not exactly known, but there are a number of risk factors that can lead to this problem and a wide range of treatment options, depending upon the severity of the disorder.
Though frozen shoulder can occur for no seemingly apparent reason, those who have had a recent injury or whose shoulder has been in a period of immobility seem to have the highest incidence of adhesive capsulitis, perhaps because of the shoulder capsule tightening due to insufficient use. It is uncommon in men and a rare condition for those under age 40; seventy percent of all cases appear in women between ages 40 and 60.
Certain systemic diseases also seem to predispose some individuals toward developing frozen shoulder. For instance, those with diabetes have a five times greater likelihood of encountering this disorder. Other risk factors include heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, hyperthyroid (overactive thyroid), hypothyroid (underactive thyroid) and lung disease.
The severity of your pain and stiffness, in addition to the length of time you have had the problem, will determine the most appropriate treatment options. The goal is to reduce pain and improve range of motion as much as possible, which can take an average of anywhere from 6 to 24 months. Treatment options include exercise, chiropractic care, physical therapy, drugs and surgery.
If the pain is not too severe, regular, gentle exercise to help stretch the joint capsule (while being sure not to overdo it) may be recommended. Pain relievers such as acetaminophen or anti-inflammatory NSAIDs may allow you to keep up some level of movement in the joint and to relieve discomfort. Corticosteroid injections are sometimes used in cases of severe pain to reduce pain and inflammation, though it is not advised that they be used as a long-term treatment, as they can damage the joint capsule.
In severe cases, surgery is sometimes indicated, though this is rarely necessary. Arthroscopic capsular release surgery is used to remove bands of scar tissue that have formed in the capsule, allowing for improved mobility in the shoulder.
Chiropractic care for frozen shoulder is one of the most effective and least invasive forms of treatment. Your chiropractor can recommend a course of physical therapy that can reduce stiffness and increase range of motion in the joint without damaging it in the process. Many chiropractors use Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) to reduce pain. A TENS machine sends out small electrical impulses though electrodes attached to the skin that help block pain signals and stimulate the body to release natural pain-relieving endorphins. In addition, regular chiropractic adjustments can keep the spine in alignment and thus reduce possible nerve irritation that may contribute to frozen shoulder.