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Frozen Shoulder and Massage

The term “Frozen Shoulder” refers to a painful symptom of the shoulder that can severely limit its range of motion and so giving the impression that the shoulder is “frozen”. The condition affects women more than men, and occurs most frequently in women aged from 45-65. Health-care practitioners prefer to use the term “adhesive capsulitis” as while the term “frozen shoulder” is common, it isn’t entirely accurate.

There are several problems in the shoulder that may be painful and limit the range of motion in ways similar to adhesive capsulitis. An important method of distinguishing adhesive capsulitis from other shoulder problems is to evaluate the way in which motion is restricted at the shoulder joint.

Shoulder MassageIn the glenohumeral joint, the capsular pattern for motion to be limited is first in external rotation, then in abduction and finally in medial rotation. Thus if a client has difficulty bringing the arm up in abduction but has no problems externally rotation the shoulder then it is unlikely that the client has adhesive capsulitis.

The glenohumeral joint has the greatest range of motion of any joint in the body. When the shoulder is in a neutral position (with the arm by the side), there is some slackening of the glenohumeral joint capsule on the underside which is necessary to allow full range of motion of the joint. When the arm/shoulder is moved to other positions, the underside of the capsule becomes taut.

Adhesive capsulitis develops when a portion of the joint capsule adheres to itself and prevents full movement of the joint. As the capsule is highly innervated, it is extremely painful when the adhesions pull on the tissues of the capsule.

Adhesive capsulitis is generally categorized into primary and secondary. In primary adhesive capsulitis there is no obvious cause for the condition – clearly frustrating for practitioners. There may be some correlation between a significant emotional trauma and the development of primary adhesive capsulitis.

Secondary adhesive capsulitis will often develop as the result of rotator-cuff tears, arthritis, shoulder trauma, surgery, bicipital tendinosis, etc. With these injuries, there appears to be a process of fibrosis that is initiated by these other conditions. As such, the individual is usually limiting motion in the shoulder at the same time the fibrosis is occurring and the fold on the underside of the joint capsule is never fully elongated. Thus begins a vicious cycle as the adhesion causes limitation to shoulder movement and pain, thus worsening the problem.

Subscapularis trigger points have also been suspected of causing secondary adhesive capsulitis. This may result from irritation of the attachment site of the subscapularis which is close to the capsule. Local inflammation at the attachment may then cause fibrous adhesion in the capsule.

Frozen shoulder is often divided into three stages:
Freezing. Onset is usually between 2 to 6 months and this period is characterized by a gradual decrease in range of motion and an increase in pain.

Frozen.This stage occurs for between 4 and 12 months after initial onset. Motion will remain extremely limited although there may be a gradual decrease in pain levels.

Thawing.In the thawing period, there is a gradual return of range of motion and decreased pain. This stage can vary from a few months to several years.

Treatment and Massage of Frozen Shoulder

Treatment should always be directed by a trained health-care practitioner who is suitably qualified to diagnose adhesive capsulitis. Most treatments begin with a relatively conservative approach aimed at increasing the range of motion of the glenohumeral joint. Simple movements such as letting the shoulder hang like a pendulum may encourage a gradual increase in range of motion. With adhesive capsulitis, if exercise is too vigorous then further damage and inflammation of the joint capsule may occur.

Massage techniques used to treat frozen shoulder should encourage relaxation of the muscles surrounding the shoulder. Simple effleurage and broad cross-fibre sweeping strokes are often used to assist in restoring proper movement to the joint. As discussed above myofascial trigger points in muscles such as subscapularis may also play a role in adhesive capsulitis. These may be treated with static compression or compression with active movement.

  
Another area that massage therapists may wish to consider is to encourage the elongation of the adhered capsular tissues. This is achieved by gentle stretching motions such as a passive stretch in lateral rotation where the client is taken to the point where discomfort begins and then held there. The client is encouraged to breathe deeply and relax the shoulder as much as possible. After holding the stretch for up to 30 seconds, the client is returned to the neutral position before repeating the procedure a few times.

If conservative treatment is not successful, a more aggressive stance may be taken of forced manipulation of the shoulder joint whilst the shoulder is anesthetized. Whilst this can produce dramatic improvements in the range of motion, it is extremely painful.

By Richard Lane

Pain Between Shoulders

Although there are any number of reasons that people call for remedial massage, probably one of the more common is for pain between the shoulder blades. This can be an isolated pain or it can be in conjunction with neck pain and stiffness or headaches. The pain can be persistent and chronic or it can appear acutely after a particular activity or movement.

Many people will believe that the root cause of the problem lies in the muscles between the shoulders blades, namely the rhomboids. If they book in for a massage then they will expect that the therapist pays particular attention to these muscles and the muscles around the area to reduce the tightness and tension.

MHowever, often the problem is not associated with tightness in the area but weakness. Tightness in other muscles is causing the muscles such as the rhomboids to become irritated because they are over-stretched not because they are overly tight. A massage therapist that tries to eliminate the tightness by stretching and adding length to the muscles may even be adding to the problem.

Often postural professionals will refer this condition with terms such as forward head posture or upper cross syndrome. The pain between the shoulders actually results from the complex interaction of the muscles around the shoulder girdle. It comes about from an increase in tightness in the muscles at the front of the neck and upper chest and weakness with the upper back and back of the neck (technically muscles such as the levator scapula, pectoralis major, suboccipitals, SCM and upper trapezius tend to be tight whereas the lower trapezius and rhomboid muscles tend to be weak).

Typically when you have your posture checked, a therapist would notice that the shoulder blades (the scapulae) are depressed lower than they should be and they are spread apart towards the sides of the body. When the shoulder blades are in this position, the traps and the rhomboids are stretched to their maximum and they struggle to hold the weight of the arms. The force of gravity leads to a constant pulling on the muscles and nerves in the area. The results is pain in and around the neck, between the shoulder blades and even down the arms.

Postural awareness is the first starting point for reducing the impact of upper crossed syndrome or forward head posture. Left untreated it can lead to degenerative changes in the upper back and result in constant neck pain, back pain and contributes to the formation of the Dowager’s Hump and be implicated in TMJ dysfunction.

  
Being mindful of when you are performing repeated tasks with you arms extended in front of you (such as typing on computers or driving) is a good starting point. However, restoring the balance between the muscles of the shoulder girdle is of prime importance and this can often be quite a challenge as normal movement patterns may have been compromised by persistant pain.

Massage can help to address some of the issues associated with these problems, in particular by releasing those muscles that are pulling the shoulders blades forward and down. Your therapist can also suggest stretching exercises for the upper chest and strengthening exercises for the upper back.


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