Frozen shoulder

Written by Stephen Sacks – Medically reviewed by Stephen Sacks – Last updated November 29, 2023

Frozen shoulder, or adhesive capsulitis, is a terribly debilitating condition affecting mainly 45–65 year olds. It is truly one of the most painful joint conditions, but it is poorly understood and often little appreciated by the sufferer’s peers. My heart goes out to the poor individuals who get a frozen shoulder. But all is not lost! It can get better sooner than you are told by others and you do NOT need to wait 3 years for it to improve nor accept that you need to be operated on.

What is a frozen shoulder?

A frozen shoulder is categorised by a restriction in passive and active movement, in other words you can move your own arm to a certain degree and the operator can also only move your arm in the same restricted range. One also develops a ‘capsular’ pattern, meaning that the arm and the shoulder blade move together. This is like hitching your shoulder.

The sufferer also experiences excruciating night pain, a painful catching spasm down the arm and restriction in the range of possible movement.

A definition by Codman, which has not been bettered since 1934, states:

This is a condition which comes on slowly with pain over the deltoid insertion, inability to sleep, painful incomplete elevation and external rotation, the restriction of movement being both active and passive, with a normal radiograph, the pain being very trying and yet all patients are able to continue their daily habits and routines.

Please feel free to contact me in Harley Street or Highgate to discuss your frozen shoulder.

Why is it such a difficult condition?

Firstly, in my opinion, one of the most difficult aspects is that no one appreciates your pain. You look normal, you are otherwise healthy and your arm is still attached, so the sympathy that most people get is zero! This is not only the case from our work colleagues, but often from our doctors, friends or family.

Being told that you will have to bear with this pain for another 2 to 3 years is also just a little unsympathetic. Painkillers don’t touch the pain. Often physiotherapy can make it worse and some surgeons either don’t want to cut or do want to cut – which is worse?!

So many women say to me: ‘I have given natural birth to numerous children without painkillers; no pain can touch that’. Well, people with frozen shoulders don’t agree!

What treatment can I offer?

I started working with Simeon Niel-Asher on his renowned frozen shoulder technique in 2008. In the London Frozen Shoulder Clinic, we saw hundreds of clients with frozen shoulders every year. The technique does work. Patients usually find that pain is mostly gone after 4 or so sessions and functional range returns after about 10 sessions. Of course, some do better and some don’t do as well – there are always caveats. You can learn more from his website.

Like all things, once you have gained a great deal of experience in a particular area, you not only become aware of most variations but you also adapt your way of approaching them. In this vein, I continue to work along the same lines as Simeon (and indeed, I still work closely with him) but have added some of my own techniques – some of which include trigger-point acupuncture – to treat my patients.

I am very happy to discuss your frozen shoulder with you, or see you in my clinic in either Harley Street or Highgate.