All about frozen shoulder syndrome
Frozen shoulder! Raise your hands if you’ve got it (or maybe not because it hurts so much, am I right?)
Frozen shoulder, also called Adhesive Capsulitis, is a condition characterized by thick bands of tissue (adhesions) forming around the shoulder joint. This can result in severe stiffness, loss of range of motion, and pain in the joint.
The most noticeable effect is the inability to move the shoulder, either independently or with assistance. This isn’t just a pain in the shoulder that makes you hesitate or resist movement, but an inability to move the joint. About 2%-3% of the population experiences frozen shoulder at some point, with most being between 40 and 60. While the cause of frozen shoulder is not entirely understood, we know that it often accompanies other conditions, such as diabetes, hypothyroidism, and Parkinson’s Disease. An injury to the shoulder and subsequent immobility can also increase the risk of developing a frozen shoulder. This is one reason after a shoulder injury or surgery, passive and active range of motion exercises are recommended as part of rehabilitation.
There are typically three stages to frozen shoulder:
Freezing is the early stage, typically characterized by increased pain and stiffness over several weeks to months. As the pain increases, the range of motion decreases.
This stage generally lasts somewhere around six months, and while the pain typically decreases, the stiffness and loss of range of motion only worsen. Even the most routine daily activities, like brushing your hair or reaching into a cabinet, can be challenging, if not impossible, with the affected shoulder.
Frozen shoulder doesn’t last permanently. Most people who experience frozen shoulder have a seemingly spontaneous recovery. The thawing stage is the slow progression back to a normal range of motion and strength. It can last from 6 months to 2 years.
How can massage therapy help?
Along with the treatments, stretches, and exercises your doctor and physical therapist recommend, here at Michigan Massage and Wellness, we love shoulders and the problems they cause. Looking at the photo above, you’ll see our results in a single session incorporating Lokte Method and Fascial Stretch Therapy. Was she completely healed after that? No, but we got a significant increase in her range of motion and decreased pain! We can break down those adhesions with manual massage and specific passive and active movements and help the “thawing” process.
Also, there’s something often referred to as pseudo-frozen shoulder. This is an unconscious muscle guarding that mimics an actual frozen shoulder. There may be an underlying condition or injury within the shoulder that, instead of adhesions limiting your range, your nervous system protectively reacts to movement, tightening the muscles around the shoulder to restrict the range of motion, even without you realizing it’s happening. Some studies suggest that even if you’re experiencing a frozen shoulder, much of the loss of mobility may be attributed to muscle guarding instead of solely the fault of the adhesions. Part of your massage sessions will include guidance and relaxation techniques to retrain your nervous system to calm down and allow the shoulder to move as much as possible.
So before you suffer through life with a frozen shoulder and chalk it up to “well, that’s just how my body is now,” book an appointment for a massage and see its difference. And then consider adding a mobility class into the mix to learn how to treat things on your own (you know, when you call for a last-minute appointment, and we are booked solid for the next three weeks….)
In good hands,
Rebecca Tamm, LMT