Frozen Shoulder Syndrome – Can Chiropractic Help?

Although most people think chiropractic is just a treatment for sore backs, your chiropractor wants you to know that chiropractic can help with a myriad of different conditions!


In one such instance, a 53-year old woman reported complete relief from a condition known as frozen shoulder syndrome (FSS) following a course of chiropractic treatments. The adjustments concentrated on manipulating the frozen shoulder joint and the area at the base of the neck. Chiropractic worked where other treatments had failed, including physical therapy and pain killing medications. [i]


FSS is a painful and debilitating condition of the shoulder where arm movement is extremely limited. The slightest movement can produce a great deal of pain. Frozen shoulder syndrome affects more women than men, and can also mimic conditions such as cervical radiculitis, rotator cuff strain and bursitis or tendonitis. In a genuine case of FSS, you’ll always have inflammation and scar tissue formation of the joint capsule.


The cause of FSS is not clear. Patients usually report having previously injured the involved shoulder at some point.


This condition is more common in diabetics, occurring in 10-20% of these individuals.


Other medical problems associated with increased risk of frozen shoulder include: hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, Parkinson’s disease, and cardiac disease or surgery. [ii]


The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons calls FSS a progressive condition that follows three stages: freezing, frozen, and thawing.


The Freezing Stage


The onset of shoulder pain is usually without any obvious physical cause. The pain related to this stage gets worse over time, creating progressive limitation to the shoulder’s range of motion. The pain during this stage can be constant and aching, with sharper pain felt at the end-range of motion. The freezing stage can last anywhere form weeks to several months.


The Frozen Stage


The shoulder can be classified as frozen once it has reached its maximum restricted movement pattern. Constant pain may have subsided. But pain is often felt whenever movement is attempted past the restricted range of motion. Typically, a person experiencing FSS will be unable to reach behind their back, cannot move the arm toward the hitch-hikers’ position, and will be unable to bring the hand/arm above the height of the shoulder. The frozen stage typically lasts for up to nine months.


The Thawing Stage


After the frozen stage, the patient will slowly be able to increase the pain-free range of motion. Without treatment, there is a natural course of healing whereby the frozen shoulder typically thaws within 12 to 18 months. It’s a mystery to most doctors and therapists as to why this syndrome occurs and the variable response rates to different treatments.


The Role of Chiropractic for FSS


Since nerves supplying the shoulder joint and surrounding tissues originate in the neck, it is always advisable to have your chiropractor assess your neck for vertebral subluxations if you are suffering from this, or any other painful shoulder condition. Restoring proper nerve movement in the spine can help assist proper nerve function in the shoulder area. This can contribute to your recovery.


Shoulder movement and stabilization requires a great deal of muscular coordination, so joint manipulation alone may have limited success in many cases of FSS. According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, exercise and stretching are the most recommended forms of complementary therapies.


In the tougher cases where these therapies are ineffective, more aggressive therapy for FSS may consist of surgically removing the capsular adhesions, or using corticosteroid injections.[iii] Surgery should be considered as a last resort. It’s more expensive, carries greater risk of complications, and often requires a long term recovery from the surgery itself.


If you or anyone you know may be suffering from Frozen Shoulder Syndrome, let your chiropractor know. Chiropractic adjustments have been shown to be a very effective tool to help resolve this painful condition. Keep in mind that FSS usually takes a long time to heal, but any improvement represents a significant enhancement represents a significant enhancement to the person’s quality of life.


[i] J Manipulative Physiol Ther1995 (Fed);18(2):105-115

[ii] American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons

[iii] J Orthop Surg (Hong Kong). 2008 Dec;16(3):295-9, Am J Sports Med. 2008 May;36(5):921-6, J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2009;39(2):135-148.


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