Menopausal frozen shoulder — or adhesive capsulitis — is a painful and limiting condition that occurs when the capsule of the shoulder joint becomes inflamed. The swelling causes the space inside the capsule to shrink. This restricts shoulder motion by reducing lubricating fluid and limiting tendon movement. Scar tissue often forms in the tissues around the joint as well, further complicating the disorder.
This temporary condition affects those in their fifties and sixties more than any other age group and is much more likely to strike women than men. It is more prevalent for women experiencing hormonal changes, such as those related to menopause and perimenopause. While most people who experience frozen shoulder will recover in one or two years, some will encounter more lasting limitations.
Risk Factors for Menopausal Frozen Shoulder
While hormonal fluctuations may contribute to the development of adhesive capsulitis, it is not the only risk factor. Other risk factors can include:
- Arm fracture
- Cervical disk disease
- Injury to the shoulder
- Open heart surgery
- Parkinson’s disease
- Poor posture
- Shoulder surgery
- Thyroid imbalances
Symptoms of Frozen Shoulder
The primary symptoms of a menopausal frozen shoulder are pain and stiffness of the arm and shoulder area. This can affect one or both shoulders, but one is more common. These symptoms may start as a minor annoyance but can sometimes lead to a debilitating loss of movement at the peak of the condition. Some sufferers may also experience heaviness in the affected arm, difficulty sleeping, and neck pain.
This condition typically comes on gradually, follows a series of stages, then resolves within one to two years. The first stage of frozen shoulder, the freezing stage, lasts between six and nine months. It is characterized by severe pain, sleep disturbances, and worsening stiffness. During the frozen phase, which lasts between four months and a year, the pain often lessens. The stiffness, however, can become intense during this stage, and the loss of motion may restrict certain daily activities. The final stage, known as the thawing stage, sees an increase in the range of motion and a decrease in pain.
Diagnosis and Treatment for Frozen Shoulder
Individuals experiencing these symptoms should schedule an appointment with their doctor. An x-ray of the affected shoulder can sometimes rule out other complaints, such as arthritis or undiagnosed arm or shoulder fractures.
Although this condition is typically self-limiting, treatment helps reduce the length and severity of the disorder. There are several remedies that doctors can employ, including:
- NSAIDs: Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications such as aspirin, acetaminophen, and ibuprofen are often effective in relieving the pain and swelling associated with adhesive capsulitis.
- Corticosteroid injections: This remedy is frequently employed to reduce both pain and swelling when NSAIDs are not effective. Although corticosteroids are generally effective in controlling pain and inflammation, it may take several days to ease the pain.
- Physical therapy: Stretching and toning the shoulder area can help to improve shoulder mobility and reduce pain.
- Physical manipulation: This procedure, performed under anesthesia, helps to stretch tight tissues and break up scar tissue, thereby restoring mobility.
- Surgery: For particularly severe or stubborn cases of frozen shoulder, shoulder arthroscopy may be recommended. This surgical procedure restores motion to the shoulder by severing tightened ligaments and removing scar tissue.
- Treating underlying conditions: Diabetes, menopause, and thyroid disorders are all risk factors for developing adhesive capsulitis. Treating these underlying ailments is likely to improve the outcome.
Without treatment, most people with adhesive capsulitis or a menopausal frozen shoulder see full or partial recovery within two years. Treatment, especially early treatment, can significantly reduce that timeframe, sometimes cutting it in half. Once recovered, experiencing a relapse in the same shoulder is rare. Experiencing a frozen shoulder on the opposite side is more commonly seen.
Many of those afflicted with frozen shoulder see a full recovery, but nearly as many report ongoing symptoms at a significantly reduced level. A small percentage of individuals experience persistent pain and loss of movement without a significant reduction in intensity.
Preventing Frozen Shoulder
Risk factors such as genetics or Parkinson’s disease may not be under our control, so prevention is not always possible. Still, there are some things we can do to reduce our chances of developing this disorder. After surgery or injury to the arms or shoulders, regular stretching exercises supervised by a medical professional may help to keep the shoulders limber. Those who have underlying conditions such as diabetes or thyroid disorders may also be able to ward off a frozen shoulder by keeping the underlying condition under control.
Certain nutritional changes, such as reducing carbohydrate and saturated fat intake and eating more omega-3 fatty acids, will also help reduce the chances of developing this condition. Regularly adding anti-inflammatory spices like ginger and turmeric to your recipes may also help prevent the formation of this ailment by preventing inflammation throughout the body.
If you develop symptoms that might signal adhesive capsulitis, contact your physician as soon as possible. They will be able to run the tests required to rule out other conditions and guide you on your path to healing. Given time, this condition may resolve itself on its own. However, medical treatment and guidance will help to reduce pain and shorten the duration.