Your shoulder is one of the most heavily used joints in your body. Sometimes, with all that work, it just gets stiff. When that happens, a little rest and some ice may be all you need. There is, however, a condition known as “frozen shoulder,” a more debilitating and long-term condition that usually requires a specific treatment regimen.
How Is Frozen Shoulder Diagnosed?
If you’ve been having some discomfort or impingement of motion in your shoulder, a physical exam is a good idea. Your doctor typically will ask you to perform a wide range of movements with the shoulder to assess your “active range of motion.” To effectively diagnose frozen shoulder, the doctor also will ask you to relax your shoulder muscles while he or she attempts to move your arm, allowing assessment of your “passive range of motion.” If your active and passive ranges of motion are affected, you likely have frozen shoulder.
Your doctor should be able to diagnose frozen shoulder through observation, but don’t be surprised if you are required to have an X-ray or MRI to rule out other issues.
Treatment of Frozen Shoulder
If you’re experiencing pain in connection with frozen shoulder, over-the-counter anti-inflammatories, such as ibuprofen, or pain-killers, such as aspirin, will work almost as well as any prescription drug.
The first course of action with a frozen shoulder typically involves some type of physical therapy regimen. You likely will be shown exercises intended to gradually increase your range of motion. Don’t expect to heal quickly if you do those exercises only at your physical therapy sessions. The physical therapist will prescribe the length and frequency of your exercises—be diligent in doing the work and you’ll usually heal faster.
Other non-invasive or minimally-invasive treatment strategies include:
- Shoulder manipulation from a massage therapist or chiropractor, done with or without anesthesia
- Steroid injections, which can improve mobility and range of motion while minimizing pain
- Joint distension, a process where sterile water is injected into the shoulder joint to stretch tissue and make it easier to move