Frozen Shoulder:

How to Prevent a Frozen Shoulder

By Dr. Ben Kim

One of the most common and preventable physical health challenges that I have treated over the years is called frozen shoulder, also known as adhesive capsulitis. Even if you don't currently have a problem with your shoulders, I highly recommend that you read this article in its entirety, as the guidelines provided below can help you maintain healthy shoulders and prevent a wide variety of physical ailments of the shoulder and upper back regions in the years to come.

Frozen shoulder is characterized by a gradual stiffening of the shoulder region. Women first tend to notice that they have difficulty fastening a bra and brushing their hair. Men first tend to notice that it is painful to put their hands in their back pockets or to comb their hair.

Although frozen shoulder is sometimes classified as being idiopathic in nature i.e. without a known cause, my experience has been that there are three major causes of the progressive capsular tightening that characterizes this condition:

1. Not using your shoulder complex on a regular basis

Your main shoulder joint (glenohumeral joint) is surrounded by several ligaments and tendons that are meant to provide the joint with enough stability that it doesn't easily dislocate and with enough flexibility that you can use your arms for a wide variety of activities. If you don't use your shoulder complex on a regular basis through everyday activities and exercise, these ligaments and tendons won't receive as much blood as they need for optimal nourishment and removal of waste products. Over time, lack of optimal blood circulation to these ligaments and tendons can cause them to tighten up.

2. Poor biomechanics of the shoulder complex

Your shoulder complex includes your main shoulder joint, your clavicle, breast bone (sternum), shoulder blade (scapula), and upper back (thoracic and cervical spinal regions). All of these areas need to work well for fluid arm movement. For example, hunching over in front of the computer for several hours a day can create an alteration in the alignment of your shoulder blade and upper arm bone, which can put significant stress on the ligaments and tendons that surround your shoulder complex. Over time, this stress can cause a mild to severe degree of inflammation in the region, which can lead to scar tissue formation and shoulder stiffening.

3. Autoimmune response

Emotional stress, a poor diet, a weak digestive system, and a genetic predisposition for autoimmune activity can cause your body to produce antibodies that can damage your own tissues, in this case, the tissues that surround your shoulder complex. And damage of any kind to your tissues will invariably lead to scar tissue formation, which can certainly contribute to capsular tightening in your shoulder.

Here are some simple steps that you can incorporate into your daily life that can virtually eliminate your chances of developing frozen shoulder in the years ahead:

1. Stretch your shoulders

To stretch the entire shoulder region, take a towel in your right hand and hold it behind your head as though you are holding a long back scratcher. Wrap your left arm around your left lower back so that the bony side of your left hand is against your left lower back, just as a lady would begin to reach around to fasten her bra. In this position, your left hand should be able to easily hold onto the bottom of the towel. Once both hands are firmly holding onto both ends of the towel, use your right hand to slowly pull upwards on the towel until you feel a good stretch in your left shoulder. Hold this stretch for about 30 seconds and make sure that you don't stop breathing. Then, slowly pull downwards on the towel with your left hand until you feel a good stretch in your right shoulder. Hold again for 30 seconds and maintain steady breathing. Repeat the same routine in reverse - with your left hand holding the top of the towel and your right hand holding the bottom.

2. Strengthen the tendons around your shoulders

There are many ways to strengthen the tendons that surround your shoulders, but the single best method that I know of is to hang on a bar. This may sound easy, but I don't know too many people who can hang on a bar for more than 60 seconds. Hanging on a bar for even 5-10 seconds a day can dramatically improve the strength of the tendons that surround your shoulders and your upper body in general.

If you can't support your body weight on a bar, find one that is at a height that allows your feet to be on the ground so that you can use your legs to give you some help.

For optimal results, flex your elbows ever so slightly to increase the amount of tension on your shoulder tendons.

The position of your hands can vary from day to day. Having your palms face forward will strengthen mainly the tendons that are at the front of your shoulder complex. Having your palms face backward will strengthen mainly the tendons that are at the back of your shoulder complex. And having your palms face each other (if you can find monkey bars or rings that allow you to do this) will strengthen the entire region equally.

3. Stretch your spine

In order for the main joint of your shoulder complex to move properly, it is essential to have a healthy upper back region, one that isn't curved forward anymore than it should be due to slouching forward all day long.

To combat the natural tendency to hunch forward at a desk, at least once per day, you should perform a stretch that allows your spine to be pushed forwards. The simplest such stretch that I know of is to take a pillow and lay it length wise on the ground or on you bed, lay your back on the pillow so that your bum hangs off the bottom of the pillow, your head hangs off the top, and your arms are allowed to fall off the sides of the pillow to rest on the ground. If you don't feel that your mid and upper back are being stretched forward by this position, add another pillow to increase the height of your arch. Rest in this position for as long as is comfortable, up to 15 minutes each evening.

4. Include vitamin D and beneficial bacteria in your diet

Whether you have a genetic predisposition to developing autoimmune activity in your body or not, including reliable sources of vitamin D and friendly bacteria in your diet can significantly strengthen your immune system and decrease your risk of developing conditions that have an autoimmune component, frozen shoulder included.

5. Eat mainly whole, minimally processed foods and adopt healthy eating habits

In the event that you do have a genetic predisposition to developing autoimmune activity in your body, it is critical for you to adopt a healthy, whole food diet and eating habits that promote a healthy digestive system. Genetic predispositions do not have to be expressed and can actually lay dormant for your entire life as long as you consistently eat healthy foods in a healthy way.

The real key to adopting any new lifestyle habits is to have enough motivation to do so. Believe me, having pain and stiffness in your shoulders to a point where you can't perform activities of daily living is not something that you want to add to your list of life experiences.

Try following the steps outlined above. I'm confident that your efforts will help you have strong and flexible shoulders in the years ahead.

Dr. Ben KimImprove Your Health With Our Free E-mail Newsletter

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