Frozen shoulder? A Canadian condition?

Frozen shoulder is not what happens in the middle of winter in Canada.

It is the common name for a condition called adhesive capsulitis.

Frozen shoulder occurs when the ligaments around the shoulder, otherwise known as the shoulder capsule, tighten up and stop the shoulder from moving. The causes of frozen shoulder are not very well understood. It can happen when the shoulder is held immobile for long periods of time, after a surgery for example, or after an injury or trauma. Sometimes, a shoulder will freeze just for the heck of it.

There are three main stages that can occur during the course of a frozen shoulder. In stage one, the “freezing” stage, there is a slow onset of pain. As the pain worsens, the shoulder loses motion. This stage may last from six weeks to nine months.

In stage two, the “frozen” stage, there is a slow improvement in pain, but the stiffness remains. This stage generally lasts 4-9 months.

Stage three is the “thawing” stage during which shoulder motion slowly returns toward normal. This stage generally lasts 5-26 months.

A frozen shoulder will generally get better on its own but without treatment the improvement can be slow.

So what can be done to fix a frozen shoulder? Physiotherapy focuses on regaining the lost movement in the shoulder by stretching out the ligaments in the shoulder so that they no longer restrict the movement of the arm. Generally a combination of home stretches and mobilization of the affected shoulder by a physiotherapist will loosen the shoulder enough to begin decreasing the pain and increasing the range of motion.

Surgery is considered when there is no improvement in pain or shoulder motion after physical therapy and anti-inflammatory medications have been tried. Recovery time from surgery varies, from six weeks to three months.

Ben Chatterson works at Rehabilitation in Motion. Visit

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