Sharp pain and loss of motion are symptoms of a frozen shoulder
But don’t let that scare you. A frozen shoulder (Adhesive Capsulitis) will come and go, and physical therapy can help you maintain your range of motion with as little pain as possible. Without PT, a frozen shoulder sufferer can expect a long road.
This is one of the most common ailments among laborers, especially in the East Liverpool area, where a large number of industrial workers live. I’ve found this to be a very frequent reason for workers’ compensation claims.
How does it start?
For about the first three months, you’ll start to notice pain with active movement and passive motions. Your shoulder will ache when not in use, and as the pain increases, it will sharpen when you use the shoulder. You may also experience a slight loss of motion
Natural instinct is to protect the shoulder and use it less. You’ll have pain during the day and night, but you’ll really feel it when you rotate your arm away from your body. You’ll find you won’t be able to raise your arm or reach behind your back like you used to.
Between three to nine months, the pain will increase, particularly at night, and you’ll notice a more significant loss in shoulder movement. Your range of motion will be limited due to pain and stiffness.
This is usually about the time I see most of my patients, mostly because they don’t realize something is wrong until after that third month. It’s common for patients to assume that initial pain will go away with time.
If after a thorough consultation I find that my patient is still within these first two stages, I’ll use a combination of manual therapy and stretching techniques to help them maintain or increase their range of motion and reduce the pain. Heat and ice packs work great in getting the muscles ready for work at this stage, and a home exercise program will help reduce the loss of motion.
What if I wait too long to get physical therapy?
It’s never too late to get help with a frozen shoulder, though waiting too long could result in need more aggressive treatment. If your symptoms persist for nine to 14 months and you aren’t already receiving treatment, your shoulder is officially “frozen,” and you are likely experiencing substantially decreased shoulder movement and pain.
Fortunately, this is pretty much the hump of Adhesive Capsulitis, and you will eventually notice decreased pain and a little more range of motion. To help things along, I will engage my patients with more aggressive stretching and manual therapy techniques, as well as some strengthening exercises. For more severe cases, an injection of anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving medication into the joint may be required.
After a year or so, you will still experience limited range of motion, but you will be able to reengage with your daily activities with relatively little pain and some overhead motion. Physical therapists typically work with patients to return to those normal movements with stretching and strength training.
How can I keep from getting a frozen shoulder?
Unfortunately, there is no sure fire way to prevent Adhesive Capsulitis. However, getting an evaluation from a physical therapist at the first sign of symptom is the best way to ensure an early diagnosis, allowing you to get started on a physical therapy regimen that will maximize your range of motion and minimize your pain.