What is Frozen Shoulder and Why Yoga Will Make it Worse

Frozen shoulder is a physical syndrome in which the range of motion in the shoulder joint is severely limited.

For a more official definition we turn to Web MD:

Image courtesy of WebMD
Image courtesy of WebMD

Frozen shoulder, also known as adhesive capsulitis, is a condition characterized by stiffness and pain in your shoulder joint. Signs and symptoms typically begin gradually, worsen over time and then resolve, usually within one to three years.

Your risk of developing frozen shoulder increases if you’re recovering from a medical condition or procedure that prevents you from moving your arm — such as a stroke or a mastectomy.

Treatment for frozen shoulder involves range-of-motion exercises and, sometimes, corticosteroids and numbing medications injected into the joint capsule. In a small percentage of cases, arthroscopic surgery may be indicated to loosen the joint capsule so that it can move more freely.

It’s unusual for frozen shoulder to recur in the same shoulder, but some people can develop it in the opposite shoulder.

What the above looks like in an individual affected by frozen shoulder can be an incredibly painful and frustrating movement experience. Reaching for any item, washing one’s hair and trying to carry ANYTHING can wreak havoc on an already weakened physical state. Repetitive mishaps (of which can seem minor and unpredictable, like putting on a jacket too quickly) can worsen the injuries that first led one to this state.

So what causes frozen shoulder? Typically, injuries to the rotator cuff are responsible for the onset.

The rotator cuff is made up of 4 muscles: supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor and subscapularis. If any of these muscles or their associated tendons suffer a severe enough tear or strain there may a consequential stiffening of the shoulder. If the injuries are compounded the body’s defense against repetitive injury may kick in and not allow the joint to move above 90 degrees or lateral movement of the arm becomes impossible.

To repeat: This stiffening, tightening of the joint capsule and overall inability to move through the joint is the body’s way of trying to avoid worse injury. Well-intentioned as this may seem it is obviously painful and limiting to one’s quality of life. But to try to force more movement as advised in myriad videos about “yoga for frozen shoulder” can be dangerous and worsen the situation. Our experience in successfully training a few individuals out of this physical myre involved the sensitivity to listen to the body and create a basis of stability based on breathing practices as well as strength-training.

Contact us for more information and keep your eyes peeled for a video that will explain more in detail. Feel free to submit a question so Mel can answer it specifically.  She’ll also discuss why she thinks women tend to get it more frequently than men.