The “50-year-old shoulder”
In Chinese and Japanese, the “50 Shoulder”, or sometimes also called the “40 shoulder” refers to pain and stiffness of the shoulder occurring without any apparent cause. It is not confined to the 50 year old. and may occur typically in the 35-65 age group. This is also known as the Frozen Shoulder (or Adhesive Capsulitis in medical terms). However some of these patients may have Rotator Cuff Disease or even Osteoarthritis, both of which also present as pain and stiffness. In many of these cases, the symptoms overlap with the frozen shoulder and some form of imaging (X-rays, Ultrasound or MRI scans) may be needed to differentiate them.
The Frozen Shoulder is a problem involving the shoulder capsule. This is basically a balloon that surrounds the joint, the primary function of which is to hold in the joint fluid. This balloon gets thickened and inflamed in a frozen shoulder resulting in the pain and stiffness. The Rotator Cuff is actually a number of muscles which surround the shoulder ball, sitting just outside the capsult. It is commonly inflamed (tendonitis) or even torn in this age group. Arthritis is damage to the joint cartilage itself.
Usually, the pain starts gradually. In some cases, there may some form of mild injury or overuse, but in most case, the patients cannot remember any precipitating event. The shoulder becomes stiffer and more painful over the course of a few weeks to months.
The natural history of a frozen shoulder is that it eventually gets better on its own in most cases, but may take anything from 6 months to even 2-3 years. With treatment however, this period can be shortened dramatically. The primary treatment is that of a stretching programme. The majority of patients will respond to home programme of capsular stretching but there are always a few that do not.
Those who have too much pain to stretch, or do not respond, may need further intervention. This can be in the form of a simple Manipulation, under Anaesthesia or an Arthroscopic Capsular Release. This intervention is merely a way to get over the “hurdle” as the patient still needs to continue stretching for 2-3 months after this.
Rotator cuff disease is a spectrum of disease, ranging from Tendonitis, to Partial Thickness Tears, known as Cuff Tear Arthropathy. The patient with a rotator cuff problem sometimes in a similar way to a frozen shoulder. In others it is due to an injury such as a fall or overuse injury. The symptoms are slightly different, as the pain is more pain on exertion or they may have a painful arc.
The rotator cuff is a set of muscles, surrounding the shoulder capsule. The most commonly involved muscle is Supraspinatus. The treatment depends very much on the patient symptoms, size of tear etc.
For example if the symptoms are just a painful arc (Impingement Syndrome) and the scans are negative for a tear, then non operative treatment is often successful. This may involve a stretching programme, rest, anti-inflammatory medication or even steroid injections. If surgery is needed, it is relatively simple Day Surgery Arthroscopic Surgery in which some bone may be removed to reduce the friction and rubbing on the rotator cuff from the adjacent bone.
On the other hand if there is full thickness tear, the symptoms may be more of weakness and pain on overhead activity. In this case, a Surgical Repair of the Torn Supraspinatus Tendon may be needed. Steroid injections are not recommended as they mask the symptoms only and also may compromise the results of surgical repair.
In come cases, a patient may have both a Rotator Cuff Tear, as well as a form of Frozen Shoulder which occurs secondarily to the Rotator Cuff Disease. This complicates the treatment and usually results in slower recovery.
Shoulder Specialist Treating Rotator Cuff Tear & Frozen Shoulder
Dr Kevin Yip