Range of Motion Recovery from Frozen Shoulder (Quality Life Forum Self-Care Series)
Health Coaching Session, July, 2021
Frozen shoulder is more commonly seen in women than men, between the ages of 40 and 60. It is also known as adhesive capsulitis, which is a condition that tissues in shoulder joint become thicker and tighter, with scar tissue developing over time. When joint doesn’t have enough space to rotate properly, it results in shoulder pain with limitations of range of motion.
Frozen shoulder is most often caused by inflammation (characterized by swelling and pain) of the tissues surrounding the joint with 3 stages of development:
1 Freezing stage (6 weeks – 9 months) with acute inflammation, most pain and loss range of motion 2 Frozen stage (4 – 9 months) inflammation subsides, less painful, but with limited range of motion 3 Thawing stage (5 – 26 months) with minimal or no pain and range of motion recovery The length of each stage varies and the course may last from 10 months – 3 years. The two main goals of treatment are to increase motion and to decrease pain. The good news is most frozen shoulder will recover almost completely with time and range of motion exercises, only very few may need surgery.
Training the functional movements to enhance quality of life
Although frozen shoulder (and many other musculoskeletal pains) will resolve or improve on its own eventually, it's a long time to deal with intermittent pain, mobility issues, and sleep disruption. The pain and stiffness it causes may seriously interfere with daily living activities. A full recovery takes time and lots of self-care. Engaging in home range of motion (ROM) exercises and stretching throughout the healing process is essential for functional improvements.
Your doctor is likely to prescribe home exercises to improve range of motion. Start gentle and let the pain guide you – if it hurts, then stop.
Consistency is the key for getting results. If you diligently follow your regimen of shoulder exercises, it's likely that you'll be able to resume your usual level of activity.
When the symptoms start to improve, you can progress to the next level of range-of-motion exercises.
You should avoid any activities that require overhead reaching, lifting, or anything else that aggravates your pain. Avoid carry heavy bags on shoulder or pressure (i.e., sleep on the affected side).
Take pain medication as needed to maintain daily life functions and sleep quality.
In addition to cardiovascular exercises, exercises designed help maintain mobility and flexibility are essential to help manage joint problems, balance and reduce the risk of falling. For most healthy, active adults, range of motion exercises, when combined with flexibility and strength training, can maintain or improve the range of motion in joints.
Most exercises intended to support range of motion do not build muscle strength or promote muscle growth. Rather, they are designed to keep the joints, tendons, ligaments, and muscles flexible, supple and lubricated. For this reason, it’s highly recommended that range of motion exercises be included as one part of a fitness routine that includes strength training, flexibility and balance exercises, and cardio exercise.
Muscle strength: Tai chi can improve both lower-body strength and upper-body strength. When practiced regularly, tai chi can be comparable to resistance training and brisk walking. Although you aren't working with weights or resistance bands, the unsupported arm exercise involved in tai chi strengthens your upper body. Tai chi strengthens both the lower and upper extremities and also the core muscles of the back and abdomen.
Flexibility and Range of Motion: Tai chi can boost upper- and lower-body flexibility as well as strength. Tai chi also provide overall ROM benefits.
Balance: Tai chi improves balance and, according to some studies, reduces falls. Proprioception — the ability to sense the position of one's body in space — declines with age. Tai chi helps train this sense, which is a function of sensory neurons in the inner ear and stretch receptors in the muscles and ligaments. Tai chi also improves muscle strength and flexibility, which makes it easier to recover from a stumble. Fear of falling can make you more likely to fall; some studies have found that tai chi training helps reduce that fear.
Aerobic conditioning: tai chi can provide some aerobic (depending on the speed and size of the movements) benefits. Its low impact movements are more suitable for older adults.
In summary, frozen shoulder is a common condition in older adults. In most cases, it will recover almost completely with time and range of motion exercises. However, the pain and stiffness it causes may seriously interfere with daily living activities. A full recovery takes time and lots of self-care. Engaging in home range of motion (ROM) exercises and stretching throughout the healing process is essential for recovery. It is important to maintain range of motion (ROM) for healthy aging. Tai Chi is a safe movement and an effective adjunct to standard medical treatment for the prevention and rehabilitation of many conditions commonly associated with age.
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Disclaimer: This information is for educational and informational purposes only. It is not medical advice. Consult your healthcare professional for personal conditions.
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