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An Inside Look at a Frozen Shoulder

If you’ve ever suffered from a frozen shoulder, you know all too well the stiffness, debilitating pain and immobility of the joint and how it can affect every aspect of your life. A frozen shoulder, or adhesive capsulitis in medical terms, is a fairly common complaint and one that frequently brings people to the ER for treatment.

Connective tissue in the shoulder becomes inflamed and will thicken, causing more difficulties in mobility. A frozen shoulder will worsen over time and can last for a couple years, then potentially improve after that.

What are the symptoms of a frozen shoulder?

“A frozen shoulder can be stiff, difficult to move to the point of hardly moving it at all, and painful when moved,” said Advance ER physician Dr. Rajesh Rao. “If you are suffering from shoulder pain and noticing it is getting worse, especially at night, it is possibly a form of adhesive capsulitis.”

A frozen shoulder can have three stages:

  1. Freezing stage – mobility starts to lessen as joint pain increases. Pain increases, especially at night.
  2. Frozen stage – the shoulder becomes harder to move and more stiff. Pain remains about the same or is less noticeable.
  3. Thawing stage – mobility starts to return and the joint moves with less pain. Pain may come back but will go again.

What caused my frozen shoulder?

If you’re wondering how your shoulder got so messed up, it might be hard to pinpoint any one thing. Here are some common causes for a frozen shoulder:

  • Whiplash injury
  • Falling on outstretched hand (FOOSH) injury
  • Surgery that required limited arm movement such as mastectomy or fracture
  • Sports injury

What are the risk factors?

There are a few factors that contribute to an increased risk of developing a frozen shoulder. These include: diabetes, over age of 40, woman gender, stroke, hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, heart disease, and Parkinson’s disease.

What treatment is available?

“If you come to the ER for help with a frozen shoulder, we will give you a careful examination and then we may prescribe an over-the-counter painkiller or a prescription painkiller, hot and cold ice packs to alternate, steroids, physical therapy and range-of-motion exercises, or possibly transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS),” said Dr. Rao, “Or, in severe cases, a surgical procedure may be performed.”

“Come in any time, day or night, and we will take a look at your shoulder pain and determine the course of treatment that can help you start to regain the use of your shoulder again,” said Dr. Rao.

Meet Dr. Rajesh Rao:

Dr. Rajesh Rao is board-certified in Emergency Medicine and is a senior management partner at Advance ER. He received his medical degree at the Kansas City University of Medicine and Bioscience. Dr. Rao is fluent in English and Telugu.