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Frozen Shoulder: The How’s and Why’s

Our shoulder is the most mobile joint in our body. A remnant from our tree-swinging ancestors, now it’s a joint that enables us to use our dextrous hands as the brilliant tools that they are.

If our shoulder is out of action, life suddenly becomes quite hard! Manipulating the space around us with our hands becomes much more difficult and we realise that our shoulder plays a role in pretty much everything we do. Even laying on them when we sleep can become a problem!

What Is ‘Frozen Shoulder’?

One of the more debilitating shoulder injuries is the so-called ‘Frozen Shoulder’. All the joints in our body have a bag around them called the ‘capsule’ which holds in the fluid. The capsule of the shoulder has folds in it like a curtain so that when we reach our arms overhead the capsule can stretch. In a frozen shoulder, the folds become sticky and inflamed and can be incredibly painful when you reach up. Movement becomes limited and the hand can barely be lifted above waist-height.

Frozen shoulders mostly occur between the ages of 45 to 60 and are more common in women than in men, but this is just a guide because I have seen them in many demographics.

They normally come on after an injury like a fall or an unexpected reach, like catching a falling glass, for example. What normally happens is that the shoulder aches for a bit after the incident which the patient thinks is normal, but then it continues to tighten up over the next few weeks and doesn’t seem to improve.

The Mind/Body Link

The really interesting thing about frozen shoulder is the link with the mind. This was summarised beautifully by one of my mentors when he said simply, “animals don’t get frozen shoulders”.

When we look at the difference in the stress response of humans and other animals, it’s got nothing to do with the chemistry that goes on in our body – that’s the same. The major difference is the time we suffer for. Animals fight, prey, chase, run, but then they go back to their life. Humans have bills, relationships, colleagues and rush hour traffic to contend with and our stress response can last months or years.

The link between our mind and our body is still not fully understood by science, but there is certainly a known correlation with problems like frozen shoulder and stress.

How To Treat It?

With this in mind (excuse the pun), what do we do about it?

Well, frozen shoulders have three phases known as ‘freezing, frozen and thawing‘ which relate to what is happening to the capsule and how much inflammation there is. The rehab and exercises needed in each phase are different so it’s important to have a clear diagnosis and make sure you are not doing something that will exacerbate the problem.

Minimising Stress

I also speak to my patients about managing lifestyle stress. Our body can’t speak to us in words, just symptoms, and something like a frozen shoulder can be our body’s way of saying “slow down”. Take note of the stressors in your life and see if you can minimise them. Maybe there’s a conversation you need to have with a loved one, or you may need to ask for help in your work or you might be doing everything for everyone else but not have any “me time”.

This may sound strange that there is such a strong correlation between stress and frozen shoulders, but I have yet to find an example where this isn’t true.

If you have a frozen shoulder, firstly deal with the mechanics by seeing a specialist who can tell you what phase you’re in and give the correct exercises for your stage of the injury. But you also need to look after your mind. Take time each day to relax – mindfulness meditation is the best form of this using an app like Headspace.

Ask yourself, “what is my body trying to tell me?”, because if you are honest and really listen, you will know the answer.

Get In Touch

If you need help with a frozen shoulder and want to take a holistic view, get in touch at [email protected] or you can call on 01245 522360 – we are here to help.

Have a healthy month!