One of the reasons exercises for shoulder pain are prescribed is to treat a condition known as adhesive capsulitis or frozen shoulder. As the name implies, frozen shoulder is a condition that describes a stiff and painful shoulder. Although irritation of the shoulder joint can lead to pain and stiffness, true frozen shoulder is a process characterized by 3 phases.
Phase 1 of the frozen shoulder process involves the “freezing” phase. In this phase, the shoulder undergoes a progressive degree of stiffening and corresponding pain. It remains unclear as to the exact conditions that trigger this reaction. What we do know is that the condition seems to be characterized by a thickening in the lower portion of the joint capsule (arm pit area).
Phase 2 or the “frozen” stage of adhesive capsulitis is characterized by severely limited and painful range of motion. Simple day to day activities such as dressing, reaching overhead, and bathing become very challenging due to the pain and limited mobility. It is common in this stage for the patient to compensate for the lack of shoulder mobility, which can lead to pain in neck muscles along with other pain in the upper back and neck.
The “thawing” stage of frozen shoulder involves a progressive loosening and decreases in pain related to the joint. Improvements in overall function are noted in this stage.
As mentioned earlier, exercises for shoulder pain are prescribed to assist with maintaining function and reducing pain. unfortunately, attempts at exercising a frozen shoulder during the freezing phase can be an exercise in frustration as the body simply will not alter its course. In fact, true frozen shoulder has been referred to as a self-limiting condition, meaning that it needs to run its course. Medical research has documented time frames of between 2 weeks to 10 years.
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