Frozen Shoulder Syndrome in the Elderly Patient: Signs, Symptoms, and Treatment

Shoulder pain and shoulder complications are a common part of aging and often are minor pains that can be resolved with home remedies. For some older adults, however, there is a risk for more severe shoulder complications especially when frozen shoulder syndrome is present. If you are caring for an aging parent who is complaining of severe shoulder pain, it is important to understand the signs and symptoms of frozen shoulder syndrome among the elderly.

Frozen shoulder syndrome is the term used to describe a condition in the shoulder where there is very limited range of motion. While pain and swelling may be present in the shoulder, this condition is set apart from other shoulder disorders based upon the lack of range of motion. While there may be pain in some shoulder injuries that simply discourage movement, in a frozen shoulder syndrome complication, there is simply no movement possible. Even with best attempts, the aging adult is not able to move the shoulder at all.

When you find that your aging parent has frozen shoulder syndrome, the issue of concern is how to address the inflammation and adhesions that have developed in the shoulder joint. For most older adults, there will be, quite possibly, a period of aggressive rehabilitation, therapy, use of steroid injections, and medications to control inflammation. In most older adults, this type of treatment is needed for as long as 24 months.

While there are some more common shoulder complications that can be treated with home therapy, including rotator cuff tendinitis, most older adults will never recover from frozen shoulder syndrome without some form of professional and structured care. So, when facing this diagnosis, it is important that there are appropriate physicians, nurses, therapists, and methods of transportation provided for medical appointments as even one missed healthcare appointment can set back the recovery from this shoulder syndrome.

Not all shoulder pains and aches of the elderly are advanced and aggressive as frozen shoulder syndrome. In those adults who have this condition, mobility and range of motion in the upper extremity is virtually impossible and leads to a decrease in quality of life. Ignoring the condition, therefore, will only further compromise health. If your aging parent is complaining of shoulder pain, be sure to seek out medical attention immediately.

Sources: Clinical Examination of the Shoulder, by Todd Ellenbecker

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