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Frozen Shoulder Syndrome

Sidewalks are not the only thing that can freeze at this time of the year.  So can your shoulder. Frozen shoulder is an unfortunate condition where you lose your shoulder flexibility.  Reaching overhead, behind your back or to the side becomes restricted and painful.  Sometimes, frozen shoulder will get better on its own, but all too often you can be left with residual pain and stiffness.

Causes of Frozen Shoulder

Normally,   your shoulder ball and socket joint and the surrounding muscles and ligaments are well lubricated and able to stretch easily.  However, if these tissues become inflamed, they lose their elasticity causing your shoulder to tighten up in all directions.  Even simple movements become difficult.  The technical term for frozen shoulder is adhesive capsulitis and the major causes are:

  • Gradual pain and stiffness that starts without any obvious cause ( note: women over 40 with a history of diabetes or thyroid disease appear to be at greater risk).
  • After a traumatic injury (eg., slip and fall)
  • Following surgery where the shoulder is kept still for a long time (e.g., in a sling,).

Three Stages of Frozen Shoulder

Typically, adhesive capsulitis has three stages:

  • Freezing stage. Pain is present most or all of the time. Sleeping is difficult and all movements aggravate the pain (usually lasts 3 to 6 months, sometimes more).
  • Frozen stage.Pain usually lessens slightly but shoulder continues to stiffen (can last up to 12 months).
  • Thawing stage Pain goes away and shoulder movements begin to come back (can last up to 24 months).

Unfreezing Your Shoulder with Physical Therapy

Physical therapists are highly skilled at assessing and treating people with frozen shoulder.  Capilano physiotherapists will conduct a thorough examination to determine if you actually have frozen shoulder (eg. not rotator cuff or bursitis) and its stage.

After your exam, your attending Capilano Physiotherapist will: 

  • Focus on pain control in the pain stage (e.g., gentle exercises, treatments to gently mobilize the joint, etc.)
  • Focus on range of motion in the frozen stage (e.g., strengthening exercises, manual therapy, etc)
  • Focus on functional exercises and rehabilitation in the recovery stage to restore flexibility and function

It is important to understand the stage as treatment differs for each stage. Pushing the movement too early can worsen the pain, not pushing enough can lead to more stiffness. Your physical therapist will help you determine how much to push. 

Recovery Expectations

Recovery takes time and success depends upon participation in the treatment plan provided by your physiotherapist.  

For stubborn and non-responsive frozen shoulders, Capilano offers additional treatment options which may assist with your recovery, including but not limited to:

  • Shockwave Therapy
  • Gunn IMS
  • Acupuncture

If your shoulder is getting stiff and sore, don’t wait for a referral.  Get moving.  Keep Moving. Call Capilano now at (780)-466-1104 to schedule your exam as soon as possible.  Let Capilano help you wake up to painfree living.


Capilano Rehab Centre | Physical Therapy in Edmonton
Capilano Rehab Clinic physical therapists have provided state-of-the-art physical therapy, sports physiotherapy, back pain, WCB, accident, whiplash and injury rehab to clients in Edmonton for over 10 years.

5832 Terrace Rd
Edmonton, AB. T6A 3Y8

(780) 466-1104


adhesive capsulitis, BIODEX, Bursitis, Frozen Shoulder, radial shockwave, Rotator cuff, shockwave therapy

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