Having frozen shoulder is no fun. Don’t believe me? Ask any of my patients who have it. Adhesive Capsulitis or “frozen shoulder” commonly occurs with women who are between the ages of 40-60 years old and have either thyroid dysfunction or diabetes. A frozen shoulder typically comes in three stages: freezing, frozen and thawing.
Now just to be clear, the shoulder is not “frozen.” Rather, the joint capsule which is wrinkly like a loose shirt is developing scar tissue between the wrinkles. This, in effect, decreases the flexibility and pliability of the joint which is what causes the shoulder to lose mobility. While in the freezing phase, it is typically very painful. The pain, in turn, limits functional capacity of the arm. Frequently, my female patients will note that they can’t wash or style their hair the way they want to and putting on a bra becomes impossible. It can also greatly impact your sleep depending on how you like to sleep (think arm overhead or just how flared up the capsule really is).
There are several ways to treat a frozen shoulder. One way is to wait it out. Typically a frozen shoulder takes about 18-24 months to resolve. That is a LONG time to have limited mobility and pain. People will typically get a cortisone shot which helps with the pain…sometimes. It is by no means a guarantee. Then there is physical therapy. Here you can stretch and be stretched which can help with either maintaining or increasing mobility in the shoulder depending on what phase you are in. Lastly, there is surgery otherwise known as an MUA or manipulation under anesthesia. I used to imagine this was a very violent procedure, but I have watched several videos on YouTube and it is just like being stretched by a PT except you are completely unconscious. You can also have arthroscopic surgery where the surgeon debrides the inside of the joint capsule as well.
Now, there is one other way that I wanted to talk to you about – dry needling. I know, big shocker here. If you have read any of my articles, you know I loves me the dry needling. Even though I love dry needling, I have never tried it on someone with a frozen shoulder until recently because it didn’t make sense to do it. As I mentioned before, the scar tissue builds up on the INSIDE of the joint capsule and at best, I can get my needle to the OUTSIDE of the joint capsule. Even if I got it to the capsule, there is no way for me to break up the scar tissue.
Recently, a patient with a freezing right shoulder asked me to dry needle her. She was miserable because she wasn’t sleeping and loosing mobility quickly. We had done the traditional stretching and by the end of the session, she did have more mobility, but the pain was either the same or worse. Seeing no harm in trying, I put three needles in her right shoulder: front, middle and back and asked her to text me the next day to let me know how sleeping went that night.
The next day, I was thrilled to hear that her pain levels had dropped by 85% according to her. She was pleasantly surprised, if not a little skeptical. I was pretty excited and amazed myself. While this was only the first person I had treated with dry needling for a frozen shoulder, the outcome was good.
If you are dealing with a frozen shoulder and want to try to manage the pain and stiffness without medication or surgery, give me a call 479-268-6040.