Adhesive Capsulitis After A Car Accident — Recovery and Treatment

Adhesive capsulitis, or frozen shoulder, is a common source of shoulder immobility and pain. While there are many causes for this shoulder injury, patients often experience it after a car accident. If you are in this situation and seeking relief, a great first step in treatment is learning more. 

Understanding what adhesive capsulitis is and how a car accident causes it 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 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 BEST Health System. 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 makes shoulder movement limited and painful, basically 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, many people with diabetes can have frozen shoulder, making it a big risk factor. 

Doctors usually split the development of adhesive capsulitis into four 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 the onset of adhesive capsulitis. This stage should be associated with increased 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 needed after a car accident, or there is a period where the shoulder is placed in a sling, you may be at a higher risk to get frozen shoulder. 

Conservative treatment for adhesive capsulitis should include physical therapy

Upon diagnosis of frozen shoulder, doctors will begin with a conservative treatment plan to help manage symptoms and improve shoulder function. In the early stages, medication and corticosteroid injections can help to reduce pain 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 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 BEST Health System

If you’re suffering from adhesive capsulitis resulting from a car accident-related shoulder injury, the dedicated team at BEST Health System can help. From 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 adhesive capsulitis treatment is the key to overcoming getting back to the people and activities you love. BEST Heath System can be your trusted partner no matter where you are in the treatment process. 

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