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Adhesive Capsulitis After A Car Accident — Recovery and Treatment


Adhesive capsulitis, also called frozen shoulder, is a common source of shoulder immobility and pain. While there are a wide range of causes for this form of shoulder injury, many patients experience this condition after a car accident. If you are in this situation and seeking relief, a great first step in treatment is educating yourself as a patient. 

Understanding what adhesive capsulitis is and how a car accident causes this particular form of shoulder injury can help you be more engaged with your treatment. Frozen shoulder has a multi-phase progression that requires different approaches to treatment throughout. By working to develop an effective treatment plan that responds to where your particular case of adhesive capsulitis is, you can give yourself the best chance of long-term relief. 

Take some time to review the following information to help you learn more. If you have any questions or would like to learn more, please feel free to reach out to the caring team at USA Spine Care & Orthopedics. We’re here to help you find the relief you deserve. 

What is adhesive capsulitis?

As the name implies, adhesive capsulitis develops when the capsule of connective tissue that surrounds the shoulder becomes inflamed and stiff, causing it to stick. This in turn, makes shoulder movement limited and painful, essentially making it freeze. 

Adhesive capsulitis is most often associated with a shoulder injury, fracture or post surgical complication that causes the shoulder to become immobile in the first place. Additionally, a large number of people with diabetes develop frozen shoulder, making it a significant risk factor. 

Doctors generally split the development of adhesive capsulitis into four distinct phases that can impact diagnosis and treatment:

  • Stage one — The onset of frozen shoulder symptoms typically marks the beginning of a two to four month phase. During this time the shoulder will be painful and shoulder movement will be severely limited. These symptoms are caused by inflammation of the shoulder capsule.
  • Stage two — Next is the so-called "freezing stage". In this phase, shoulder pain will continue and there will also be growing stiffness. Patients may experience decreased pain as range of motion becomes more limited due to the hardening of the shoulder capsule.
  • Stage three —  The phase where the shoulder becomes more or less frozen often happens between nine months to a year. While the shoulder is very stiff, many report it no longer being painful when resting. At this stage, also called the “frozen stage,” scarring has likely developed in the shoulder capsule that limits range of motion.
  • Stage four — Finally, the "thawing stage" typically begins 15 to 24 months after onset of adhesive capsulitis. This stage should be associated with increasing mobility and function.

Your physician will usually diagnose the condition after reviewing medical history, asking questions about symptoms, performing a physical examination that includes range-of-motion tests and ordering diagnostic testing if needed. 

Why frozen shoulder occurs after a car accident

Adhesive capsulitis is usually a secondary injury caused by another trauma. In many cases, this includes a shoulder injury caused by a car accident. Common shoulder injuries that occur during a car accident include rotator cuff tears and fractures. The resulting immobility and inflammation in the shoulder capsule can lead to adhesive capsulitis developing. 

Additionally, if shoulder surgery is required due to a car accident, or there is a prolonged period where the shoulder is placed in a sling, patients can then be at an elevated risk to develop frozen shoulder. 

Conservative treatment for adhesive capsulitis should include physical therapy

Upon diagnosis of frozen shoulder, doctors will generally begin with a conservative treatment plan to help manage symptoms and improve shoulder function. In the early stages, anti-inflammatory medication and corticosteroid injections can help to reduce pain and inflammation and improve mobility as much as possible. 

As the shoulder begins to thaw, many patients work with a physical therapist to help restore range of motion, break up stiff tissue and strengthen the often-immobilized shoulder. Therapists will perform a thorough evaluation to assess the progress of the condition and help set treatment goals. 

Is adhesive capsulitis surgery ever necessary?

Surgery for frozen shoulder can become a serious consideration if weeks or months of conservative therapies have not been effective after the condition has run its course. Surgical options include manipulation under anesthesia, where the surgeon essentially forces shoulder movement to break up the scar tissue in the shoulder capsule. 

Another approach is shoulder arthroscopy, which involves insertion of an arthroscope to help surgeons access the shoulder to make very small cuts that carefully break up the frozen shoulder capsule. 

These techniques are generally seen as last-resort options, although they can be performed on an outpatient basis. As frozen shoulder is sometimes related to postsurgical immobility, it is all the more critical to follow postoperative instructions and take any rehabilitative steps needed to get the shoulder moving and functioning again. 

Learn more about shoulder injury treatment at USA Spine Care and Orthopedics

If you’re suffering from adhesive capsulitis resulting from a car accident-related shoulder injury, the dedicated team at USA Spine Care and Orthopedics can help. From physical therapy, to anti-inflammatory injections to outpatient surgery, our multidisciplinary team has extensive experience treating a wide range of shoulder conditions and shoulder injuries. 

We’re passionate about patient-centered care and can work with you closely to develop an individualized treatment plan aligned with your wellness goals and lifestyle. Prompt and proactive adhesive capsulitis is the key to overcoming this condition on the shortest possible timeline and getting back to the people and activities you love. USA Spine Care & Orthopedics can be your trusted partners no matter where you are in the treatment process. 

To learn more about our treatment options for shoulder injury, contact us today.

Adhesive Capsulitis Quick Answers

How do you get adhesive capsulitis?

This shoulder injury develops when the capsule of connective tissue surrounding the shoulder becomes inflamed, swollen and stiff. Adhesive capsulitis is usually related to another shoulder injury, such as a rotator cuff tear, that causes the shoulder to become immobilized. The resulting lack of movement causes the shoulder capsule to stiffen, which restricts movement, or “freezes” it. 

Does adhesive capsulitis ever go away on its own?

With prompt diagnosis and treatment, adhesive capsulitis can improve. Recovery time varies from patient to patient depending on the severity and nature of the shoulder injury. In some cases adhesive capsulitis can go away in a few weeks or months while other patients may require a year or longer. 

What is the best treatment for adhesive capsulitis or frozen shoulder?

Even though immobility contributes to frozen shoulder, it is best to keep the shoulder stable during the early phase of adhesive capsulitis. As the condition improves, physical therapy exercises can help regain range of motion and function. For some patients, over-the-counter medications and steroid injections can help if there is moderate to severe pain.  

Does adhesive capsulitis require surgery?

In most cases, adhesive capsulitis improves with conservative therapy and time. In some situations, a surgical release procedure can help to break up bundles of tissue in the shoulder capsule to help patients regain movement.

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