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Navigating the Chill of a Frozen Shoulder – A Personal Journey to Thawing and Recovery

Frozen shoulder – the term itself may suggest images of arctic calm and stillness. But if you have this condition, you’ll quickly discover the metaphor extends far beyond the peaceful imagery and into a realm of stiffness, discomfort, and an unmistakable freeze on your daily activities.

Living with a frozen shoulder can be an excruciating and disabling experience. This painful condition limits your arm’s range of motion, causing daily activities to become challenging. I understand frozen shoulder intimately, not just as a concept but as a personal battle. If you feel the icy grip of a frozen shoulder, I come bearing warm tidings from my experience. It is possible to melt away the limitations with the right approach.

Patient's shoulder being assessed by therapist

Understanding Frozen Shoulder

Frozen shoulder (adhesive capsulitis) is a condition marked by pain, stiffness, and limited range of motion in your shoulder. Symptoms usually begin gradually and worsen over time before a slow thaw begins. If left untreated, the natural recovery might take as long as a glacial two or three years.

The Comprehensive View of Frozen Shoulder article published by PMC explains the complexity of this syndrome, pointing to factors such as systemic inflammation and metabolic imbalances that may contribute to its onset. Additionally, immobility following an injury, conditions like diabetes or thyroid disorders, or even chronic stress are all potential causes. However, no one really knows what causes frozen shoulder.

xray type photo showing the shoulder joint, muscle and inflammation associated with frozen shoulder

The Stages of Frozen Shoulder

It typically progresses through three distinct stages, each with its symptoms and challenges. Understanding the stages of frozen shoulder can help you better manage your condition and work towards recovery.

Stage 1: Freezing

During this stage, you may notice severe pain and stiffness in your shoulder that gradually worsens over time. During this stage, any shoulder movement can cause discomfort, with the pain often worsening at night. The range of motion in your shoulder will become more limited, making it difficult to perform everyday tasks such as reaching overhead or behind your back. The pain is typically dull or aching at rest but sharp with movement. It’s important for individuals experiencing these symptoms to seek medical advice, as early intervention can help manage the pain and potentially reduce the duration of this stage. This stage can last anywhere from 6 weeks to 9 months and is characterized by inflammation and thickening of the capsule surrounding the shoulder joint.

Stage 2: Frozen

During the frozen stage, the pain may begin to diminish. Still, the shoulder becomes stiffer, leading to a significant decrease in mobility. The reduction in pain is a somewhat deceptive sign of improvement, as the stiffness remains a substantial barrier to regular activity and function. In this phase, the shoulder may be so stiff that everyday tasks, like dressing, become difficult, if not impossible. It’s crucial to continue with therapy during this time as the focus shifts towards improving the range of motion. Patience and persistence are key, as progress can be slow but is vital for recovery. This stage can last from four to twelve months.

Stage 3: Thawing

The final phase of frozen shoulder is known as the thawing stage, where the stiffness gradually decreases and movement improves. During this period, individuals may notice a slow but steady increase in their range of motion. The pain subsides significantly, allowing for more intensive physical therapy and exercise to regain shoulder function. Staying committed to your rehabilitation plan is essential, as consistency is crucial for full recovery. Despite the challenges faced in the earlier stages, most people return to their normal activities and regain close to, if not complete, shoulder function by the end of the thawing stage, which can last from six months to two years.

Physiotherapist doing a shockwave treatment on a man's frozen shoulder

The Healing Ensemble for Frozen Shoulder

My salvation from this frigid condition arose through the collective expertise of a carefully chosen team. I had a physiotherapist, a chiropractor, a Registered Massage Therapist (RMT), and an acupuncturist working together.

Interestingly, the BC Chiropractic Association suggests core stability plays a fundamental role in injury recovery, including for frozen shoulder. Meanwhile, several studies highlight the role of nutrition in managing inflammation and aiding in hormonal balance. So, adding a kinesiologist, athletic therapist, and holistic nutritionist to your team may also be a good idea.

Physiotherapy for Mobility

With their sophisticated grasp of movement and mechanics, physiotherapists play a crucial role in helping patients with frozen shoulder regain function and reduce pain. Through mobility and strengthening exercises, intramuscular stimulation/ dry needling, manual therapy techniques, and education, physiotherapists can support individuals on their journey towards improved mobility and quality of life. They use techniques like myofascial release, gentle dynamic movement, and joint mobilization. Furthermore, physiotherapy for frozen shoulder often includes modalities such as heat therapy, ultrasound, shockwave, or electrical stimulation to help reduce pain and inflammation in the affected area. These modalities can provide temporary relief from symptoms while working alongside other treatments.

Chiropractor doing treatment on a woman's shoulder

Chiropractic to the Rescue

Chiropractors focus on manipulating the body’s joints to induce healing and improve mobility, all while decreasing pain. Their informed techniques work on restoring joint mobility and treating the surrounding architecture, emphasizing a holistic recovery. These techniques often include mobilization and manipulation of the shoulder joint and the joints in the neck and upper back, which can also become stiff and tight when dealing with a frozen shoulder. Chiropractors use muscle release techniques to help restore proper mobility of the shoulder and surrounding tissue. At the same time, corrective exercises help maintain the range of motion and increase strength and stability within the shoulder. With its focus on improving joint function, reducing inflammation, creating personalized treatment plans, and promoting overall wellness, chiropractic care offers a comprehensive approach to alleviating frozen shoulder symptoms and restoring optimal function in your shoulders.

woman receiving a shoulder massage

The Gentle Touch of Massage Therapy

The path to healing benefits significantly from the relaxing yet deep-reaching techniques a registered massage therapist applies. Their trained hands work wonders, encouraging tight muscles to release their grip and become more flexible. In addition to loosening tight muscles and improving circulation, massage therapy can help reduce stress and promote relaxation.

Chronic pain and limited mobility can take a toll on both physical and mental well-being, leading to increased stress levels. Massage therapy provides a safe space for patients to relax, unwind, and release physical and psychological tension. Furthermore, regular massage therapy sessions can help prevent future flare-ups of frozen shoulder by maintaining muscle flexibility and promoting overall joint health.

patient receiving acupuncture on frozen shoulder

Acupuncture: Ancient Art of Precision

I found this modality indispensable in lessening the throbbing ache. With each targeted insertion, my shoulders experienced minor releases, combining into a cascade of greater movement and relief. Studies show that acupuncture triggers the release of endorphins, which are the body’s natural painkillers. This helps to reduce discomfort associated with frozen shoulder. Additionally, acupuncture can help improve the range of motion in the shoulder joint by promoting relaxation in tight muscles and enhancing blood flow to the area. By targeting key points related to the shoulder joint and surrounding muscles, acupuncture can help reduce pain, increase mobility, and promote healing naturally.

A Resource You Can Count On

At Newleaf Total Wellness Centre, we understand that recovering from frozen shoulder requires a multi-faceted approach. That’s why our team consists of various healthcare professionals who specialize in different areas. With a combination of hands-on therapy from a physiotherapist and RMT and alternative treatments like acupuncture and holistic nutrition, we have it all under one roof.

One of the key benefits of working with Newleaf Total Wellness Centre is the convenience of meeting all your healthcare needs in one place. Instead of running to different clinics for various treatments, you can trust our team to coordinate your care and provide seamless communication between providers. Working with the team at Newleaf will save you time and energy and ensure you receive the best possible care tailored to your needs.

Final Thoughts

Your battle against a frozen shoulder is not one you should fight alone. Armed with patience, the correct information, and an expert team, your recovery need not be an ice age away. Wield these interventions like a torch and blaze a trail toward free movement. Remember, as the stroll toward wellness unfolds, each small victory earned along this expedition is worth celebrating.

Reach out to Newleaf Total Wellness Centre and begin your journey to thaw today.

“Strive for progress, not perfection.” – Every step is progress at Newleaf Total Wellness Centre.

Written By: DeVera Nybo, MBA, Owner/CEO Newleaf Total Wellness Centre

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