Shoulder Pain – Is it Frozen?

Finding it difficult to reach in your back pocket for your wallet due to shoulder tightness and pain?  How about reaching overhead? If so, you may be experiencing a condition called adhesive capsulitis, otherwise known as frozen shoulder.
This common condition is often found in diabetics and those with cardiovascular diseases but it can happen to you. Most people mistake this as a torn shoulder or rotator cuff injury when in fact it is not!

What is it?

Adhesive capsulitis is typically a reversible condition that most individuals give up on.  Yes, you heard it right, it is reversible!  It is when the shoulder is begins to demonstrates a gross loss in range of motion.   Pain and loss of motion is initiated by inflammation, which is followed by laying down of scar tissue.  The shoulder region typically exhibits gradual loss of motion and those affected by this condition tend to state that they have “inability to put their wallet in their back pocket.”

What affects the healing process?

The duration (how long) in which the patient has had the condition, temperature of environment, rehabilitation, types of treatment all have an effect on how fast the healing process occurs.  Patients who have diabetes, hyperthyroidism, cardiovascular disorders, and post trauma to the region are typically at a greater risk for this condition.

The Problem?

Most individuals begin to slowly lose range of motion within the shoulder, which then is followed by pain. Due to the fact that happens slowly, most people don’t seek treatment until its too late and are already suffering from pain and a significant loss of shoulder motion.

But What About Physical Therapy?

Physical therapy is fantastic for a frozen shoulder!  I show all my patient’s exercises and I do recommend them to seek therapy to strengthen there shoulder and promote mobility.  Patients who seek physical therapy need to have muscle work to the capsule of the shoulder joint.  Not addressing the “frozen” capsule can and will eventually leads to stagnation and a plateau in your care.

The Road to Recovery

Since this is usually a long-standing injury and mostly chronic in nature, most patients find that heat helps them.  However long you have had this condition for, there is typically a longer than usual healing time that can frustrate many.  Having seen this injury many times, typical treatment times can range from about 3 months to 9 months.  Of course this depends on many factors but having the individual engage in vigorous therapy, being willing to endure some flare-ups, as well as some stagnation, it is a journey of care.  Most people can recover very well if they follow care and stick to it!


Many each year seek surgery to alleviate the scar tissue and restore motion.  This typically does not work as the surgery itself produces scar tissue and does not actually free up the capsule. To date, I have not seen a successful surgical treatment that is comparable to conservative care.  Additionally, the cost of surgery is higher and requires some time off of use.

In terms of sports medicine and Chiropractic treatment, this is not a nice relaxing massage!  Rather, it is a series of extensive mobilizations, adjustments, stretching, rehabilitation and soft tissue procedures that are geared to restoring the shoulder to full range of motion while breaking down the scar tissue.

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