If you’ve ever had a frozen shoulder, you know how painful and debilitating it can be. Daily activities become challenging, and it may become difficult to sleep at night. What’s behind a frozen shoulder besides an injury? Why do some people heal faster than others? Here are some things to know about frozen shoulders and how to recover faster.
What is a Frozen Shoulder?
Frozen shoulder, medically known as adhesive capsulitis, is a painful and disabling condition affecting the shoulder joint. The connective tissue around the shoulder is called the shoulder capsule. In certain circumstances, this tissue thickens and becomes exceptionally tight. Then adhesions (stiff tissue bands) develop, preventing the shoulder from moving normally and causing pain.
A frozen shoulder typically progresses through stages, causing significant discomfort and limiting shoulder movement. The condition is called “frozen shoulder” because it often feels as if the shoulder joint has “frozen” in place due to the restricted motion. Here’s how a frozen shoulder usually progresses: 
- Freezing Stage: This is the first stage and involves a gradual onset of shoulder pain. Over time, the pain worsens, and there’s a noticeable reduction in the shoulder’s range of motion. This stage can last for several weeks to months.
- Frozen Stage: During this stage, the shoulder becomes increasingly stiff. The range of motion becomes severely limited. Everyday activities like reaching for things or combing hair can become exceedingly difficult. Pain may persist but can begin decreasing in intensity. This stage tends to last from 4 to 12 months.
- Thawing Stage: In the final stage, shoulder mobility gradually improves, and pain decreases. This stage can last anywhere from several months to a few years, and full recovery may happen during this time.
While the exact cause of a frozen shoulder isn’t clear, we know it involves a tightening of the joint capsule surrounding the shoulder joint, which causes aggravating pain and a loss of flexibility.
Symptoms of a Frozen Shoulder
The symptoms of a frozen shoulder may include:
- Shoulder pain
- Upper back pain
- Upper arm pain
- Stiffness around the shoulder
- Difficulty with everyday activities like getting dressed, reaching for things, and holding or carrying things.
- Immobility in the shoulder joint
These aggravating symptoms tend to send people to their local clinic for diagnosis and treatment.
How is Frozen Shoulder Diagnosed?
A frozen shoulder is usually diagnosed through a physical examination followed by imaging tests like X-rays, ultrasounds, or MRIs. 
The Fireman vs. The Carpenter in Healthcare
At The Wellness Way, we talk about the mainstream perspective on healthcare versus our perspective and methods as the “fireman approach” or the “carpenter approach.”
Mainstream “fireman” doctors have two tools (treatment options) for caring for people: an axe and a hose. The axe represents cutting things out in a surgical procedure. The hose represents using medications to extinguish inflammation, pain, and other symptoms.
The Wellness Way doctors are more like carpenters. They assess the current state of the body with testing and then create a personalized plan to rebuild using nutrients from foods and supplements. Sunshine, rest, and positive relationships are additional natural therapies that help with healing.
While these things are considered “complementary medicine” or even “alternative medicine,” scientific research backs up their effectiveness in healing.
Mainstream Medicine’s Approach to a Frozen Shoulder
Mainstream medicine looks at a frozen shoulder as the result of an injury or long-term mobilization. They remedy the issue with pain meds, anti-inflammatories, and specific exercises.
Common Medications Given for a Frozen Shoulder
- Pain killers: Anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may be prescribed to reduce pain and inflammation. Over-the-counter meds may work for some, while others may need stronger pain-relieving prescriptions.
- Corticosteroid Injections: In some cases, steroid injections into the shoulder joint can provide short-term relief.
These pharmaceuticals may alleviate some discomfort by synthetically suppressing inflammation, but they all have side effects. Those side effects are why people seek out natural treatments or home remedies for a frozen shoulder.
Other Treatments for a Frozen Shoulder
Other interventions a healthcare provider may recommend include:
- Heat and Ice: Applying a heating pad or an ice pack to the affected area can help relieve pain and reduce inflammation.
- Shoulder Exercises: Patients often receive stretching exercises to perform at home to improve shoulder mobility. These exercises can also help boost circulation, creating a better setting for healing.
- Physical therapy: A physical therapist can recommend and demonstrate exercises to regain range-of-motion and reduce pain. Physical therapy is more effective when combined with acupuncture and other treatments. 
- Acupuncture: A controlled clinical trial found acupuncture may improve the range of motion and pain for those with a frozen shoulder. 
In severe cases, a doctor may recommend manipulation under anesthesia or arthroscopic surgery to break up adhesions and scar tissue within the shoulder capsule and improve the range of motion.
What Causes a Frozen Shoulder? Traumas, Toxins, and Thoughts
Lack of movement is a common cause of a frozen shoulder, yet it doesn’t happen to everyone. It more often happens to people with conditions associated with increased inflammation, like thyroid disorders, diabetes, or heart disease.
A 2016 meta-analysis found those with diabetes are five times more likely to develop a frozen shoulder than non-diabetics. Nearly one-third (30%) of those with a frozen shoulder at any given time are diabetics.  That says something about susceptibility. We must look at other contributing factors, such as physical, biochemical, and emotional stressors.
Traumas (Physical Stressors)
Traumas or physical stressors can be acute or chronic. Chronic subluxations in the spine can inhibit nerve and blood flow to the shoulder, disrupting its ability to repair. Examples of traumas that may contribute to a frozen shoulder include:
- A fall causing a shoulder injury
- A car accident
- A sports injury
- Physical abuse
Prolonged shoulder immobilization, such as after surgery or injury, can increase the risk. But having a shoulder injury doesn’t necessarily mean it will develop into a frozen shoulder. It all depends on your susceptibility and lifestyle factors.
Toxins (Biochemical Stressors)
- Medications – Pharmaceutical drugs are foreign to the human body and always have side effects. Using medications over time may increase the body’s toxic burden, leading to inflammation and tissue breakdown.
- Sugar – Sugar increases inflammation throughout the body, including the joints. Researchers are finding that shoulder conditions like frozen shoulders and rotator cuff disease are more common in those with high blood sugar and diabetes than in the general public. 
- Food allergies – Foods can act like toxins, causing inflammation in the joints and elsewhere if you’re allergic to them. 
Anything that compromises the integrity of the gut lining, leading to a “leaky gut,” can lead to chronic inflammation throughout the body. Traumas and toxins are made worse by negative thought patterns and emotional stress.
Thoughts (Emotional Stressors)
Don’t underestimate the power of your thoughts. Emotional stress is just as powerful (or more powerful) than physical and biochemical stressors in triggering pain and inflammation. Our emotional stress can be influenced by the following:
- Relationship issues
- Financial stress
- Watching the news (fear/worry)
- Feeling overwhelmed due to significant life changes, like a recent marriage, a new baby, graduation, a divorce, or even moving to a new city.
- Holding a grudge/pent-up anger
- Grief/feelings of loss
The cumulative effect of these traumas, toxins, and thoughts can create inflammation and increase the risk of dis-ease anywhere in the body.
The Wellness Way Approach to a Frozen Shoulder
At The Wellness Way, we dig deeper to solve the health challenges others can’t. We don’t just address symptoms; we run tests to find out what’s going on behind the scenes.
Important Tests for Assessing Your Inflammation Levels and Immune Health
When there’s joint inflammation and pain, it means the immune system is involved. Food allergies may be a reason behind an elevated immune response and low hormones may lead to difficulty healing. After doing a chiropractic assessment, Wellness Way practitioners may also recommend these tests:
- Food Allergy Test: Immuno Food Allergy Test
- Male or Female Hormone Panel: TWW Male Panel or TWW Female Panel
Your Wellness Way practitioner may order additional tests if he or she considers it relevant based on your health history and your progress with chiropractic care.
Dietary Changes for Those with a Frozen Shoulder
When considering the dietary impact on joint health, including a frozen shoulder, we must first focus on lowering inflammation in the body. That means avoiding food allergies and following a personalized nutrition program, as your Wellness Way practitioner recommends. Here are some additional guidelines for those with a frozen shoulder:
- No sugar or processed foods – Both increase inflammation.
- Gluten-free, mostly grain-free – Gluten is known to aggravate the gut lining, contributing to chronic inflammation in the gut and brain. A gluten-free diet may help lower joint pain and inflammation and allow the gut to heal. 
- Consume an overall low carbohydrate, non-inflammatory diet of organic whole foods, which supply nutrients, antioxidants, and food for a healthy gut microbiome. Remember that those with higher blood sugar levels are more likely to develop a frozen shoulder.
- No cow’s milk dairy products – Goat and sheep’s milk products may be better tolerated –and even beneficial for lowering inflammation in the gut, which makes up a large part of the immune and inflammatory response. 
- Avoid high omega-6 vegetable oils, like corn, canola, soybean, cottonseed oil, sunflower, grapeseed, and others, which can alter the omega-6 to omega-3 balance to be more inflammatory.  Instead, use fruit oils like olive, coconut, avocado, and palm oil or animal fats like beef tallow, bacon grease, and duck fat.
- Follow a Personalized Nutrition Program based on your food allergy test results.
- Add specific nutrient-dense foods: Add Liver/organ meats, sauerkraut, and microgreens for enhanced nutrition. Liver is nature’s multivitamin, according to Dr. Flynn.
- Focus on antioxidants – Including things like turmeric, green tea, berries, dark chocolate, and other botanicals high in polyphenols can help keep inflammation under control. 
- Eat omega-3-rich foods – Wild-caught salmon, herring, sardines, walnuts, and ground flaxseeds provide omega-3s and help lower inflammation. 
A healthy diet is essential for reducing inflammation, but supplements can help. They also support gut healing and joint repair.
Supplements For Those with a Frozen Shoulder
Herbal medicine and other dietary supplements can greatly support frozen shoulder patients. They can help the body lower pain and inflammation and improve a person’s overall sense of well-being. Here are some natural remedies for a frozen shoulder:
- Rehmannia – This herb may be considered “nature’s corticosteroid.” Rehmannia is supportive of a balanced immune response and reduces inflammation. 
- Turmeric – Curcumin is the main active constituent in turmeric, known for its anti-inflammatory properties. 
- Boswellia – Boswellia serrata is also known as Indian frankincense. Boswellia has anti-inflammatory properties that have shown promise for joint pain. 
- Albizia – Albizia herb is anti-inflammatory and may help lower inflammation and joint pain. 
- Fish oil – The omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil or krill oil may help lower inflammation and promote healing. 
- Bromelain – Bromelain, an enzyme isolated from pineapple, is a powerful anti-inflammatory that may ease joint pain and stiffness. 
- Vitamin C – Taking vitamin C may reduce inflammation and cartilage loss while supplying nutrients needed for healing. 
Each person is different – herbal remedies that work for one individual may not work for another. Part of that is due to body chemistry, including genetics and allergenic responses, and part is due to differences in the contributing causes of a frozen shoulder.
Lifestyle Changes & Complementary Therapies for Those with a Frozen Shoulder
- Regular chiropractic care – If your joints are out of proper alignment, it’s easier to injure them. Regular chiropractic care may help. 
- Physical therapy and home exercises – Your provider will either recommend physical therapy or go over home exercises that are best for you. Movement is key for healing.
- Acupuncture – Acupuncture may stimulate the release of endorphins and other natural pain-relieving chemicals in the body. This boost in natural opioids can lead to reduced pain and improved function. 
Be a well-informed patient! Here are some resources for learning more about inflammation and frozen shoulders.
Educational Resources for a Frozen Shoulder
Videos & Webinars Related to Frozen Shoulder
Articles to Support Those with a Frozen Shoulder
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We invite you to connect with us! Find an event at a clinic near you! Follow us on social media. Tune in to A Different Perspective each Saturday morning LIVE to get cutting-edge training directly from Dr. Patrick Flynn. Please set up a no-obligation health consult with one of our doctors today. The best is yet to come! Think differently – and THRIVE. Contact a Wellness Way clinic to learn how to overcome a frozen shoulder and other chronic complaints.
- Frozen shoulder – Symptoms and causes – Mayo Clinic
- Frozen Shoulder (Adhesive Capsulitis): Signs, Diagnosis & Treatment (clevelandclinic.org)
- Current concepts of natural course and in management of frozen shoulder: A clinical overview – PMC (nih.gov)
- INVESTIGATION OF THE EFFECTIVENESS OF ACUPUNCTURE IN THE TREATMENT OF FROZEN SHOULDER – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Adhesive capsulitis of the shoulder and diabetes: a meta-analysis of prevalence – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Diabetes and shoulder disorders – PMC (nih.gov)
- Food Allergies: The Basics – PMC (nih.gov)
- Extra-intestinal manifestations of non-celiac gluten sensitivity: An expanding paradigm – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Reviewing the Benefits of Grazing/Browsing Semiarid Rangeland Feed Resources and the Transference of Bioactivity and Pro-Healthy Properties to Goat Milk and Cheese: Obesity, Insulin Resistance, Inflammation and Hepatic Steatosis Prevention – PubMed (nih.gov)
- The importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids – PubMed (nih.gov)
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- Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Inflammation – You Are What You Eat! – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Catalpol ameliorates CFA-induced inflammatory pain by targeting spinal cord and peripheral inflammation – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Curcumin slows osteoarthritis progression and relieves osteoarthritis-associated pain symptoms in a post-traumatic osteoarthritis mouse model – PMC (nih.gov)
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- Efficacy and Safety of Aflapin®, a Novel Boswellia Serrata Extract, in the Treatment of Osteoarthritis of the Knee: A Short-Term 30-Day Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Clinical Study – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Anti-inflammatory activity of Albizia lebbeck Benth., an ethnomedicinal plant, in acute and chronic animal models of inflammation – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Bromelain a Potential Bioactive Compound: A Comprehensive Overview from a Pharmacological Perspective – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Non-operative management of shoulder osteoarthritis: Current concepts – PubMed (nih.gov)
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- Current concepts of natural course and in management of frozen shoulder: A clinical overview – PMC (nih.gov)