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Frozen Shoulder

Also known as Adhesive Capsulitis

Frozen shoulder is a condition that brings discomfort and limitations
to the once-fluid movement of the shoulder joint. 

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What is Frozen Shoulder (Adhesive Capsulitis)?

Frozen Shoulder is often linked to improper vaccine administration. 

Medically called adhesive capsulitis, frozen shoulder occurs when a vaccine injection is given too high, in the upper arm bone, or directly into the bursa, causing inflammation. Frozen shoulder is recognizable by inflammation and thickening of the shoulder joint's capsule. This painful condition manifests as stiffness and agony within the shoulder joint, leaving individuals struggling to move the affected arm. Aptly termed frozen shoulder brings temporary immobility, turning mundane tasks into unnecessary challenges. The shoulder's natural range of motion becomes severely limited, causing frustration and helplessness. Frozen shoulder falls under the category of SIRVA (Shoulder Injury Related to Vaccine Administration) if the origin is from an improper injection.

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Cheryl suffered SIRVA (shoulder injury related to vaccine administration) following a flu shot. Her vaccine injury claim was filed in the VICP by vaccine lawyer Max Muller where she obtained a large cash settlement for her pain and suffering, lost wages and out of pocket medical expenses.

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What are the symptoms of Frozen Shoulder (Adhesive Capsulitis)?

The two main symptoms of frozen shoulder are pain and persistent stiffness in the shoulder joint. This condition causes discomfort and limits the shoulder's range of motion, making daily activities challenging and affecting the quality of life for those affected.

Symptoms can sometimes be similar to others and mixing up the diagnosis can set you back in your recovery. Here are some good ways to recognize the differences between frozen shoulder and a rotator cuff tear:

  • Movement: With a rotator cuff tear, you may have some pain when moving your arm in certain directions, but you should still be able to lift it on your own. Frozen shoulder, on the other hand, severely limits your range of motion. Lifting your arm on your own becomes difficult or even impossible.
  • Pain: Both conditions can cause pain, but they often feel different. Rotator cuff tears typically cause a sharp or aching pain, often worse at night. Frozen shoulder pain can also be aching, but it tends to be more constant. In the early stages of frozen shoulder, pain may be the most prominent symptom.
  • Stiffness: Frozen shoulder is known for its stiffness, which worsens as the condition progresses. Your shoulder may feel stuck, making even small movements difficult. Rotator cuff tears can cause stiffness too, but it's usually not as severe as with frozen shoulder.

The stiffness and tightness in the shoulder capsule from frozen shoulder restrict the arm's movement. To compensate for this limitation, the body might rely more on the muscles surrounding the shoulder blade to try and achieve some movement. This can lead to imbalances and potential pain in the scapular muscles (shoulder blade).

What are the 3 stages of Frozen Shoulder?

Frozen shoulder, also known as adhesive capsulitis, involves the gradual thickening and tightening of the shoulder capsule, leading to the development of thick bands of tissue called adhesions. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, this often coincides with a reduction in synovial fluid within the joint.

The condition progresses through three stages, each marked by distinct characteristics:

Freezing State: Six weeks to nine months
  • During this initial stage, individuals grapple with the progression of pain. The discomfort steadily increases, causing distress and making daily activities challenging.
  • A noticeable reduction in the range of motion within the affected shoulder will be noticed. This limitation introduces frustration and vulnerability.
Frozen Stage: Four to six months
  • The Frozen Stage epitomizes the peak of the struggle, typically lasting between four to six months. At this point, the shoulder joint experiences near-complete or complete immobility, further confining the individual to discomfort.
  • A disheartening aspect of this stage is the inability to move the arm voluntarily. Self-mobility is severely limited; others also find it challenging to manipulate the frozen shoulder. The reliance on external assistance for even the most basic movements adds a layer of emotional strain to the physical burden.
Thawing Stage
  • A glimmer of hope emerges during the Thawing Stage, promising gradual recovery. This phase typically commences five to fifteen months after the initial onset of frozen shoulder.
  • Mobility starts to return as the stiffness begins to dissipate. The affected individual may find relief in witnessing the gradual restoration of their shoulder's range of motion. However, it is essential to approach this phase with patience and understanding, as the pace of recovery can vary from person to person.
  • Full muscle strength and range of motion recovery may take up to two years. This period calls for perseverance and unwavering commitment to rehabilitation exercises and therapies as the shoulder regains its former strength and flexibility.

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How to diagnose Frozen Shoulder

Diagnosing frozen shoulder involves a physical exam and a medical history review by a healthcare professional. Symptoms such as shoulder pain, stiffness, and limited range of motion indicate the condition. Imaging tests such as X-rays may be used to rule out other shoulder disorders.

1. Medical History Review

The diagnostic process often begins with a detailed review of the patient's medical history. The healthcare provider will inquire about any previous shoulder injuries, medical conditions, or surgeries that may contribute to the development of frozen shoulder. Additionally, they may ask about the onset and progression of symptoms, including shoulder pain, stiffness, and limitations in range of motion.

2. Physical Examination

A detailed physical examination is necessary for evaluating shoulder function and identifying specific signs associated with frozen shoulder. During the examination, the healthcare provider will assess:

  • Range of Motion: The ability to move the shoulder joint in various directions, including forward flexion, abduction, external rotation, and internal rotation.
  • Strength and Stability: Any weakness or instability in the shoulder muscles and ligaments.
  • Tenderness: Areas of tenderness or pain around the shoulder joint.
  • Capsular Patterns: Specific shoulder movement restrictions characteristic of Frozen Shoulder, such as decreased external rotation compared to internal rotation.
3. Diagnostic Tests

While physical examination findings are necessary to diagnose frozen shoulder, additional diagnostic tests may be ordered to confirm the diagnosis and rule out other shoulder conditions. These tests may include:

  • Imaging Studies: X-rays are commonly performed to assess the bony structures of the shoulder joint and rule out fractures or degenerative changes. Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) or ultrasound may also visualize soft tissues, including the joint capsule and surrounding structures.
  • Arthroscopic Examination: In some cases, arthroscopic surgery may be recommended to directly visualize the inside of the shoulder joint and confirm the presence of adhesive capsulitis. This minimally invasive procedure involves inserting a small camera (arthroscope) through tiny incisions in the shoulder to assess the extent of joint inflammation and scar tissue formation.

Diagnosing frozen shoulder requires an approach that combines medical history review, physical examination, and diagnostic testing.

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Understanding the prognosis of frozen shoulder is important for managing expectations and planning treatment strategies effectively. The outlook for individuals with Frozen Shoulder can vary based on several factors, including the severity of the condition, the timing of intervention, and individual response to treatment.

Factors Influencing Prognosis
  1. Early Diagnosis and Treatment: Early intervention can help prevent further progression of the condition and minimize long-term disability.
  2. Severity of Symptoms: Those with milder symptoms may experience faster recovery and better overall outcomes than individuals with more severe symptoms.
  3. Compliance with Treatment: Consistent participation in rehabilitation programs can help restore shoulder function and mobility.
  4. Underlying Health Conditions: Individuals with underlying health conditions, such as diabetes or autoimmune disorders, may experience slower recovery and have a less favorable prognosis compared to those without comorbidities.
Long-Term Outlook

With appropriate treatment and rehabilitation, most individuals with frozen shoulder experience improvement in symptoms over time. While the condition can be persistent and may take several months to resolve completely, most people regain near-normal shoulder function and range of motion.

How can a vaccine cause Frozen Shoulder?

Improper vaccine administration, particularly when the injection is placed too high in the shoulder or directly into the bursae, can trigger frozen shoulder. The repercussions of such improper administration can lead to inflammation and other injuries in the shoulder joint, culminating in the development of adhesive capsulitis.

For those who experience frozen shoulder due to vaccine administration, there might be eligibility for compensation through the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, providing support for individuals facing the distressing impact of this condition.

Which vaccines are linked to Frozen Shoulder?

Certain vaccines have been associated with an increased risk of developing frozen shoulder, also known as adhesive capsulitis. The exact mechanism by which vaccines trigger frozen shoulder is not fully understood, but it is believed to involve an immune response leading to inflammation and subsequent scar tissue formation within the shoulder joint capsule.

  1. Influenza Vaccine: Studies have suggested a possible association between the influenza vaccine and the development of frozen shoulder. While the incidence of Frozen Shoulder following influenza vaccination is rare, cases have been reported in  medical literature.
  2. Tetanus Vaccine: The tetanus vaccine, often given in combination with vaccines for diphtheria and pertussis (DTaP or Tdap), has also been implicated in rare cases of frozen shoulder. 
  3. Pneumococcal Vaccine: The pneumococcal vaccine, which protects against pneumonia, meningitis and sepsis, has been linked to frozen shoulder in some individuals. This vaccine is commonly recommended for adults over 65 and individuals with certain medical conditions.

Can Frozen Shoulder cause permanent damage?

While frozen shoulder can cause significant pain and disability, it typically does not cause permanent damage to the ball and socket joint. However, prolonged immobility and stiffness can lead to muscle weakness and other complications if left untreated. Early treatment is key in preventing long-term consequences.

What is the treatment for Frozen Shoulder?

The frozen shoulder treatment options available for frozen shoulder include both surgical and non-surgical approaches. Non-surgical treatments often include seeing a physical therapist, anti-inflammatory medications, and corticosteroid injections to alleviate pain and improve shoulder mobility. 

In severe cases, surgical interventions like arthroscopic release or manipulation under anesthesia may be considered to restore shoulder function. The treatment choice for frozen shoulder depends on the severity of the condition and the individual's specific needs and medical history.

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