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Adhesive Capsulitis:  How to Thaw a Frozen Shoulder

Those who have had the misfortune of experiencing adhesive capsulitis–commonly known as “frozen shoulder”–are well-acquainted with the tedious and uncomfortable process of getting it to subside, or “thaw.”  Characterized by inflammation in the stabilizing ligaments of the shoulder, capsulitis can lead to a profound decrease in function due to a tightening and/or thickening of these structures, as well as the development of dense scar tissue known as adhesions.

The origin of this oft-misunderstood ailment can vary, but tend to fall into two general categories.  Cases that develop after a trauma or illness, such as post-fracture, stroke, or surgical repair, are known as “secondary capsulitis.”  Instances that develop idiopathically, or without a known trauma or illness, are deemed “primary capsulitis.”  This “primary” type usually affects the non-dominant side and is seen most commonly in females above the age of 40, which accounts for 70% of all cases.

Regardless of what demographic a patient may fall within, the hallmark presentation of capsulitis remains consistent:  increased pain in and around the involved shoulder, as well as a imagnificant decrease in the motion of the joint.  Progression of these symptoms is further divided into three stages:  Freezing/Painful, Frozen, and Thawing.  As we see a patient’s self-reported pain rating INCREASE during the initial “freezing” stage, we also tend to observe a DECREASE in the active range of motion in the joint, and vice-versa toward the end of the “frozen” and beginning of “thawing” stage.

Although capsulitis can be a painful and limiting issue, accurate diagnosis in the early stage of development, with a timely start of physical therapy treatment, can be an effective non-surgical solution.  In addition to alleviating the patient’s short-term pain, a treatment approach combining manual techniques (i.e., passive stretching and joint mobilizations) with therapeutic exercise to increase strength/stability of the shoulder joint and surrounding postural muscles, can minimize the possibility of long-term functional deficits or disability.

If you think that you may be developing a frozen shoulder–or any other shoulder issue affecting your daily activities–please consult a licensed Physical Therapist to properly diagnose and treat your particular issue, thus maximizing return of function and quality of life going forward.

Warren Rodrick, DPT, is a Physical Therapist and Site Supervisor of our new Wallingford location.  Warren has worked with Amity PT since graduating from University of Hartford with his Doctorate of Physical Therapy in 2015.  Working with patients of all ages and ability levels, Warren prides himself on his commitment to their goals and providing the individualized care they need.  To set up an appointment to see if your Glutes are up to par, contact us at  203-626-5330 or at amitypt.com.

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