Frozen shoulder syndrome is the common name for adhesive capsulitis; an extremely painful and debilitating condition that often strikes without warning. Sleeping, working, and even dressing become impaired relatively quickly, leaving people wondering what happened. There are typically 3 stages of adhesive capsulitis, and knowing which stage you are in can help you decide what needs to be done.
The 3 Stages of Frozen Shoulder Syndrome
1. The first stage of frozen shoulder syndrome is what some people describe as the freezing phase. It begins with a gradual onset of shoulder pain, becoming quite severe. This is usually considered the inflammatory phase, which eventually causes stiffness and thickening of the capsule around the shoulder joint; hence the name, Adhesive Capsulitis. The pain is usually worse with movement, but is can also be so severe at night that people have difficulty sleeping. This phase lasts from a few weeks to a few months.
2. The second stage of frozen shoulder syndrome is often referred to as the stiff phase. The pain usually becomes more localized and the pain is more intermittent; worse with certain movements instead of having a steady ache. These positions are usually at the end of the available motion of the shoulder. This phase usually lasts from 4 to 12 months.
3. Phase 3 of frozen shoulder syndrome is often called the thawing out phase. The pain gradually decreased and motion improves; allowing you to use your arm more normally again. This phase typically lasts from 5 to 26 months.
Speeding Up The Process: Adhesive Capsulitis Solutions
Research studies show that that joint mobilization helps improve motion during the stiffness phase, combined with exercises at home. In the beginning phases gentle mobilization techniques can help decrease the pain. It’s important to respect the phase of this disorder, such as not aggressively stretching a painful shoulder during the inflammatory stage of frozen shoulder syndrome. Many modalities such as ice, heat, electric stimulation and ultrasound are used in some practices; but the research shows they have little value in treating adhesive capsulitis except in perhaps providing short term pain relief. The real value lies in skillful mobilization and exercise prescription to normalize motion and restore function quickly. If you have any specific questions regarding frozen shoulder syndrome, contact our office and speak to one of our physical therapists.