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The Road to a Frozen Shoulder

You don't realize how much you actually use your shoulder until you suddenly can't. Whether it's from overuse or an injury, a frozen shoulder can throw a wrench in your summer plans.

The skilled surgeons at Peninsula Orthopedic Associates are able to give you a treatment plan that best fits you. They can get you on the road to recovery and back to your normal activities as soon as possible.

Frozen shoulder: What is it?

As the term implies, a frozen shoulder, known medically as adhesive capsulitis, is a condition that causes you to lose mobility and motion in your shoulder. The stiffness in the shoulder joint makes it hard for you to perform even basic everyday activities.

The symptoms of this condition usually start gradually in your affected shoulder and worsen over time. It can take 1-3 years for your shoulder to fully heal. 

What makes your shoulder “freeze up” in the first place? Your shoulder joint consists of bones, ligaments, and tendons that come together with connective tissue. If you're unable to move your shoulder for a period of time, it means this connective tissue has tightened over the joint, which in turn causes inflammation and stiffness.

Phases of a frozen shoulder

As you can imagine, this type of condition doesn't just spring up on you overnight. It's a very complex disorder that actually develops in three stages.

The first stage, or the freezing stage, is characterized by pain in your affected shoulder any time you try to move it. Your pain may range from mild to severe, and may be worse at night. This stage can last 2-9 months and bring you a lot of frustration.

The second stage is called the frozen stage. At this point, you may get some relief from the pain you feel in stage one, but your shoulder’s range of motion starts to decrease. It becomes increasingly difficult to move your shoulder, making it hard to perform certain activities such as getting dressed or doing yardwork. This stage can last 4-12 months.

The final stage of a frozen shoulder is the thawing period. Here, you start to have better range of motion in your affected shoulder. As the stiffness begins to let up, you’re able to perform daily activities again. This stage can take 12-42 months to completely resolve.

Risk factors and treatment

A frozen shoulder doesn't usually occur in young, healthy people who have no injuries. You’re more at risk if you’re female and over the age of 40. You also have a higher risk of developing this condition if you're unable to move your shoulder for an extended period. Conditions that may lead to this include:

Some pre-existing medical conditions could also make you more susceptible to a frozen shoulder. These conditions include:

Treatment of this condition is usually conservative, focusing on pain relief and decreasing inflammation. Our surgeons may recommend heat and ice therapy along with over-the-counter medications like NSAIDs. If those don't work, we may put you on muscle relaxers and give you exercises and stretches to improve your range of motion.

Most of the time, conservative treatment gets you through the stages of this condition. However, in some severe cases, steroid injections or surgery may be necessary if your condition doesn't improve after months of less aggressive treatments.

If you find yourself suffering from a frozen shoulder, call one of our four offices in Daly City, San Francisco and Atherton, California, or book an appointment online today. You can also send a message to the Peninsula Orthopedic Associates team on our website.

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