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Frozen Shoulder: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

People who suffer from frozen shoulder experience pain and stiffness in their shoulder joint. Today, our Manotick physiotherapists explain how this condition can be treated with acupuncture and dry needling as part of physiotherapy. 

What is frozen shoulder?

Frozen shoulder is also known as adhesive capsulitis. This self-limiting condition is marked by a progressive onset of symptoms, the primary signs of which are pain, stiffness and a significantly reduced range of motion. 

We have yet to fully understand the causes and onset of frozen shoulder, progressive inflammation and thickening of the shoulder's joint capsule are thought to be contributing factors. 

Having to keep a shoulder still for long periods heightens your risk of developing this condition, which may occur after having surgery or fracturing an arm. Certain populations, such as those with diabetes mellitus, are at higher risk. 

Typically, these symptoms start slowly and gradually worsen. It may take 1 to 3 years for symptoms to improve with consistent treatment, usually with range-of-motion exercise, medications and in rare circumstances, surgery. 

When it comes to treating frozen shoulder, education and communication with a qualified health professional such as a physiotherapist will be critical to managing and recovering from your symptoms. 

What are signs and symptoms of frozen shoulder?

Most people who experience frozen shoulder typically notice it developing gradually, in three stages. Pain worsens at night for some people. As you might imagine, this can disturb sleep. 


It's painful to move the shoulder, and your ability to move your shoulder becomes limited. This stage may last from 2 to 9 months. 


While you may experience less pain, stiffness sets in and you'll probably notice using your shoulder is more difficult. This stage may last from 4 to 12 months. 


The shoulder's ability to move starts to improve. This stage may last from 5 to 24 months. 

What's involved in frozen shoulder diagnosis and treatment?


Your doctor or other healthcare professional may ask you to move your arm in certain ways to assess your range of motion and to check for pain. 

You may also be asked to relax your muscles while the doctor moves your arm (passive range of motion), since frozen shoulder impacts both active and passive range of motion. 

While signs and symptoms alone are usually sufficient to diagnose this condition, imaging tests such as X-rays, ultrasounds or MRI can rule out other issues. 


Most methods for treating frozen shoulder involve managing shoulder pain and preserving as much range of motion in the shoulder as possible. This may take a combinations of medications, therapy and surgery or other procedures. 

While frozen shoulder can be treated with physiotherapy, you'll likely need to attend sessions for 12 to 18 months (note that some people still have symptoms up to 3 years later). 

Treatment may include a combination of education, managing symptoms, monitoring the disease, manual therapy and exercise therapy. 

How can physiotherapy help with shoulder pain?

Physiotherapy for shoulder pain may involve acupuncture and dry needling treatments. During these procedures, one of the trained physiotherapists at our Manotick physiotherapy clinic inserts small, sterile, fine needles through the skin into a specific area of the body. 

Acupuncture has been scientifically known to encourage natural healing, reduce or relieve pain and improve functioning in people with acute or chronic conditions or injuries. 

Dry needling causes the muscle to contract and relax. This releases trigger points in the muscles, increasing flexibility and decreasing pain. 

The team at Manotick PhysioWorks looks forward to working with you. Your physiotherapist can develop treatment plan specific to your needs. 

Would you like to learn more about addressing pain, inflammation and other arthritis symptoms?   

Our team of physiotherapists in Manotick can help you create an exercise and treatment plan to help you cope and recover.

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