Why Joints Freeze

The shoulder is actually the most moveable—and the most unstable—part of the body, so it is particularly susceptible to injury. Here's what arthritis patients need to know about frozen shoulder.

A capsule of connective tissue encases the bones, ligaments and tendons in your shoulder. This capsule is surrounded by the synovial fluid, which lubricates the joint and facilitates movement. The technical name for frozen shoulder is Adhesive Capsulitis. This term describes the bands of tissue (adhesions) that can grow in the shoulder capsule and restrict movement. When the space between the capsule and the humerus, or upper arm bone, becomes cramped, you may develop a frozen shoulder. Lack of synovial fluid may also cause a frozen shoulder.

Patients who have systemic diseases such as arthritis, or have limited use of their shoulder due to chronic pain, are at risk for developing frozen shoulder. So are women and adults between the ages of 40 and 70.

Frozen shoulder develops slowly and in stages. During the first stage, you experience pain and your range of movement becomes limited. During stage two, called the frozen stage, the pain may lessen but joint stiffness increases and your range of motion is further restricted. In the third phase, appropriately called the thawing phase, the pain subsides and you regain movement in the shoulder joint.

Battle Frozen Joints

Doctors typically treat frozen shoulder by first prescribing a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicine. Heat, which sooths stiff joints, and gentle stretching, also alleviates pain and discomfort.

If these simple remedies aren't enough, there are other alternatives. Transcutaneous (through the skin) Electrical Nerve Stimulations, or TENS, blocks nerve impulses with tiny doses of electrical stimulation and reduces pain. A cortisone injection directly in the joint usually thaws a frozen shoulder, and for the most stubborn cases, surgery is an option.

Acupuncture, alone or in conjunction with other therapies, is often an effective treatment. In randomized controlled studies and other investigations, patients with a frozen shoulder who received acupuncture in combination with an exercise program experienced significant improvement.

A frozen shoulder may eventually go away, but this takes time. With so many home remedies, medical interventions and alternative therapies available, there's no reason to suffer from a frozen shoulder.