Frozen Shoulder- Brrrrr!
By Dr. Tim Fargo, Chiropractor
Riddle: What happens when Mr. Freeze attacks your shoulder? Answer: You get Frozen Shoulder. Actually, that’s not really the way it happens, but it might seem that way sometimes. Frozen shoulder, also known as “adhesive capsulitis”, is a condition that is the result of inflammation surrounding the capsule of your shoulder. Think of a ball and socket that are shallow and very movable, but then there is a bag of connective tissue holding that ball into the socket; that is the shoulder joint “capsule”. It is inflammation and scarring of that connective tissue holding the ball into the socket that creates frozen shoulder.
Frozen shoulder will appear as a dull or aching pain in the shoulder area, but particularly manifests as restricted motion. People with frozen shoulder will often be unable to lift the arm even to shoulder height. The problem results from inflammation and tightening of the capsule around the joint. This occurs as a result of some medical conditions such as diabetes and even thyroid issues, but is even more common when a person is forced to keep their shoulder immobile, such as after fractures, stroke or surgeries such as mastectomy or rotator cuff repair. Splinting and immobilizing a shoulder will often cause the connective tissue to shorten. The condition comes on gradually, and often for no apparent reason.
Older people are much more susceptible to frozen shoulder, as are women. Previous injuries will also predispose a person to frozen shoulder, as will certain diseases such as tuberculosis and Parkinson’s disease.
The best prevention for frozen shoulder is to eat a healthy and well-balanced diet that tends to be more anti-inflammatory. A diet high in sugar, caffeine, omega six fats, refined carbohydrates, refined grains and animal protein can promote inflammation. Eating a diet that is low in sugar and empty carbohydrates, and high in such things as omega-3 fatty acids, fresh vegetables and fruits will promote a reduction in systemic inflammation. In addition, and while we are on the subject of nutrition, taking anti-inflammatory nutrients such as fish oils, ginger, turmeric, and Boswellia root can also have a powerful effect in preventing frozen shoulder.
It is equally as important to maintain shoulder mobility, especially in the event of injury, fracture, or shoulder surgery. As soon as it is practicable for you to begin moving your shoulder, you should begin doing so with gentle pendulum exercises wherein you are bending forward and letting your arm hang and swing like a pendulum. In addition, you should be doing exercises that force your arm into its full range of motion. Things like standing facing a wall and walking your hand up the wall, and standing sideways to a wall and walking your hand up the wall while doing so can be very helpful.
In my 40 years of practice I have seen literally hundreds of patients with frozen shoulder and, while I cannot say that I have “cured” the condition in every one of them, in most cases we have been able to speed recovery significantly. Most cases of frozen shoulder resolve relatively spontaneously over the course of 6 to 12 months, or longer, but by gently mobilizing the shoulder we can reduce inflammation, lengthen shortened tissue, and speed healing. In addition, it is critical to make sure that the mechanics of the neck and upper back are improved and the nerve supply to the shoulder, which comes out of the lower neck, is maintained. This is precisely what chiropractic accomplishes and why it is an effective treatment for frozen shoulder.
One approach that is done in a medical setting is manipulation under anesthesia. In such a procedure the person is fully anesthetized and they forcefully manipulate the shoulder to break up or tear the scar tissue. While this is sometimes effective, it can also be quite painful. There are easier and more gentle ways of accomplishing this mobilization.
If you, or a family member, suffers from a frozen shoulder please do not hesitate to talk with one of the doctors at Chiropractic Health and Wellness. We are here to help you with this vexing and painful condition.