Adhesive capsulitis (also known as “frozen shoulder”) is the end result of inflammation, scarring, thickening, and shrinkage of the capsule that surrounds the humeral head or “ball” part of the ball and socket joint. Adhesive capsulitis dramatically reduces the range of motion of the affected joint, which can severely impact one’s ability to carry out their normal daily activities. A frozen shoulder may or may not be associated with shoulder pain and tenderness. Though all movements are affected, raising the arm to the side is often the most impaired movement of the shoulder.
Conditions such as tendinitis, bursitis, and rotator cuff injury can lead to adhesive capsulitis, especially if the person refuses to move the shoulder for an extended length of time. Diabetes, chronic inflammatory arthritis (such as rheumatoid) of the shoulder, and chest or breast surgery are known risk factors for adhesive capsulitis.
The condition is diagnosed following a review of the patient’s history for prior trauma caused by over reaching/lifting or from repetitive movements. The examination will look for severe loss of shoulder range of motion (ROM), both active and passive. X-ray, blood tests for underlying illnesses, and other imaging approaches may also be required to make a final determination for adhesive capsulitis.
Treatment for adhesive capsulitis has classically included an aggressive combination of anti-inflammatory medications, cortisone injections, manual therapies (such as joint manipulation, mobilization, and traction), exercise training, ice (if painful), heat (if no pain), and physiotherapy modalities such as ultrasound, electric stimulation, laser, etc.
Exercises performed by the patient are also highly important for achieving a satisfactory outcome. The patient can begin immediately with pendulum-type exercises, long-axis traction (while sitting, grip the chair seat and lean to the opposite direction while relaxing the shoulder muscles to open up the ball-and-socket joint), and eventually strengthening exercises (TheraTube, TheraBand, light weights, etc.).
A recent study involved 50 patients with frozen shoulder (20 males, 30 females, ages 40-70 years) who underwent chiropractic care for a median time frame of 28 days (range: 11-51 days). Researchers looked at patient-reported pain on a 1-10 scale and their ability to raise the arm sideways (abduction). Of the 50 cases, 16 resolved completely (100%), 25 showed 75-90% improvement, 8 showed 50-75% improvement, and 1 experienced less than 50% improvement.