Q: I have been struggling with a sore shoulder for three months. At first, I just had pain when I lifted my arm up to reach for something but now, I can only lift my arm halfway up. My neighbour had something like this before and she was diagnosed with a frozen shoulder. Does this sound like frozen shoulder?
A: Sometimes the event that causes a shoulder injury is an obvious one. You can remember spiking too many volleyballs, or lifting a heavy object or maybe even falling on ice. Then there are times when you struggle to remember what you could have possibly done to get your shoulder so sore and stiff. You may wonder if your shoulder symptoms are due to early arthritis. Well, there is a shoulder condition called frozen shoulder that can occur without any trauma or known cause.
Older Adults More Susceptible
Frozen shoulder occurs when the shoulder capsule becomes tight. The capsule is like an envelope around the shoulder joint. A tight joint limits how much you can move the shoulder. The exact cause of frozen shoulder is unknown. Frozen shoulder is not a condition seen in young adults or children. Women are more affected than men. The condition is generally seen over age 40 and is even more common in the fifth, sixth and seventh decades of life. It usually occurs in one shoulder at a time. Some individuals may have a rotator cuff tendinitis in the shoulder preceding the frozen shoulder. It can also occur after trauma in the shoulder or with certain diseases such as diabetes.
Symptoms and Signs
The most discouraging factor with frozen shoulder is the duration of symptoms. It does not get better quickly and symptoms can last for years. Patients should be prepared for symptoms to last at least a year. The first few months are the most painful. There is often night pain. Pain in the shoulder will lessen over time. Motion in the shoulder becomes limited and interferes with daily activities. The amount of motion that is lost varies from patient to patient although a loss of 30-60 per cent of motion is typical. Your physician will likely find your muscle strength is well preserved. There are some conditions that can look like frozen shoulder so you should make sure you have the right diagnosis. The pain could be coming from a different part of the body but is being felt in the shoulder.
Unfortunately, there is no magic therapy to relieve frozen shoulder. Analgesics (pain-relieving medications) can be used for pain. Range of motion exercises are used to help regain more motion. Aggressive therapies such as forcing the shoulder to move or surgery are not recommended. The natural history of frozen shoulder has shown that it will get better over time regardless of treatment. Only five to 10 per cent of patients are left with significant pain and loss of motion years later. If frozen shoulder is your diagnosis, be patient, it will get better. Educate yourself about what you can and cannot do to heal your shoulder.
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