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Is there a link between frozen shoulders and unprocessed grief?

“Frozen shoulder” is a medical anomaly, an idiopathic occurrence. Idiopathic means a “spontaneous” condition with no known cause. Why would any human body “freeze” a joint like the shoulder, even if there is no tear or obvious physical injury to be found? 

My working theory on frozen shoulder, having worked with quite a few frozen shoulder clients in my private practice since 2008, is that this condition has more to do with the nervous system than anything purely physical. And under the umbrella of the nervous system, I’ve observed a pattern that made itself known when client after client opened up to me about their histories. 

The emotional or historical pattern I’ve seen accompanying frozen shoulder has to do with grief, or loss, and an instinctive drive to protect the heart from “too much” pain to bear. 

And, under the umbrella of “loss” or bearing pain, another pattern emerged: unexpressed or unprocessed grief. 

Many of these clients were/are extremely self aware. They’ve done the therapy and growth work necessary to make sense of their past and live in the present. And…there’s always been a palpable undercurrent of emotion disguising itself quite brilliantly as intellectual capacity, as strength, endurance and a persevering self-reliance. 

The clients of mine that recovered full range of motion in their shoulders also recovered and integrated their full range of E-motion. 

Sometimes, there can be an underlying nervous system pattern that’s still operating even though my client has explored their emotions and worked through them. 

Watch the video for my take on frozen shoulder, and if you are arriving to this blog post with a current frozen shoulder condition, then here’s what I recommend:

  1. Start with your nervous system, not your fascia. Identify any patterns of protecting your heart against pain, loss, grief, surrender…and if you discover there are still emotions needing to be felt and/or processed, then:
  2. Feel it to heal it. Seek help if you feel you need professional help from a well trained therapist, somatic life coach or someone who understands the body-mind connection. 
  3. Once you feel sure the emotions are moving through or already processed, then you can begin working with your fascia and nervous system pattern(s) simultaneously. 
  4. Be aware of nervous system reactivity while doing fascia release work. If your body rejects physical work by increasing your pain or decreasing range of motion after a session (whether by yourself or with a professional), then consider it could be a message from your nervous system that it’s not ready for freedom yet…there’s still healing work to be done first. 

Please keep in mind that I’m sharing this in the hopes it is helpful, and I in way think this is the only possible cause of frozen shoulder. I’m sharing the patterns I have seen in my private practice, and I am open to being wrong. 

I’d love to hear from you! Do you think this is a viable working theory? Do you or someone you know have frozen shoulder? If so, what are your thoughts on this theory and where are you at on the healing journey right now?

I look forward to reading your comments!

6 Comments

  • Sandra Anderson says:

    I got frozen shoulder towards the end of a failing marriage that I did not want to let go of..it wasn’t until I got a divorce then laying in floor crying during my stretches that my arm finally let go..I’m a firm believer that my injury wa due to emotions and yes mine was also on the left side

  • Martha says:

    Excellent video, Elisha. I really appreciate your addressing this topic. I definitely agree there is both a physical and emotional component, and to me, it feels like it’s all about the nervous system. I’ve had two frozen shoulders (first the right side about 10 years ago, and now currently on the left). On the physical level, my experience is that they are extremely painful, and along with restricted movement and mobility, it feels to me like intense inflammation and hot, sticky, angry (like reeeally pissed off) adhesive tissue that is raging (thus the term adhesive capsulitis).

    I’ll share my story in case it’s helpful for anyone. My first frozen shoulder occurred at a highly stressful time when I was caring for my elderly mother who had an extremely large and deep leg wound that I likened to a battlefield blast. It was awful. I don’t know how she coped with the pain, because I struggled to cope with the physical trauma she was experiencing. I flew to MA to help her, working from my laptop in her home. After the first week or so, I started having strange sensations and pain in my arm, and sought out acupuncture. The pain rapidly escalated, and by the time I returned home 6 weeks later, I had only 25 degrees of mobility in that arm. I began working with a neuromuscular therapist who treated me twice weekly for 6 months and made major progress during that period. Then I saw a PT for a few more months. Eventually the frozen shoulder resolved and I’ve gratefully had full mobility since. At the time, I felt I had internalized my intense stress response to my mother’s crisis, and it manifested in this strange, mysterious way. Looking back in the context of grief, my family had also experienced multiple crises in the previous three years, including tragic loss of my young nephew, my father, disease, illness, and surgeries among close family members, etc. I thought I was expressing my tearful emotions and actively grieving at the time, but I was also coping, enduring, and protecting myself in order to survive, support loved ones, and get through it all.

    With my latest frozen shoulder, it began 8 months ago at the same time of year (fall) after having had intensive abdominal myofascial release for a similar type of angry, hot, sticky, adhesive abdominal pain two years after having had a hysterectomy. There certainly is grief around that event as well. My sense at the time the frozen shoulder began was that this pain was familiar and I recognized it as frozen shoulder. I sensed that clearing some of he abdominal restrictions may have moved the restricted tissue upwards into my shoulder, essentially moving the problem to a different location (also impacting neck). After having done Mind Body Breakthrough with Elisha, I now also believe my nervous system was in uber-protection mode and it locked down my shoulder because there is still subconscious work that my body isn’t yet ready to let go of until I make it conscious. This episode of frozen shoulder has held on for a long time without making substantial progress, despite seeing the same neuromuscular therapist. This therapist has been treating frozen shoulders for 30 years and swears they are most often linked to our biochemistry — usually diabetes, thyroid issues, etc. While my glucose/A1C levels have always been in normal range, I’ve had plenty of hormonal (biochemical) issues, having begun menopause shortly before my first frozen shoulder, with a hysterectomy and further hormonal impacts prior to my second frozen shoulder. At the same time, I also do believe there is a strong emotional component here and likely an underlieing current of fear held in the body. While I had not previously associated this with grief, per se, I do believe that grief is likely there as a deeper level of processing needed to recognize and confront deep loss — maybe of an existential, primal nature.

    So Elisha, thank you so much for putting all of your thoughts into a video and providing important food for thought on this topic. It’s such a bizarre condition that no one has answers for, and treatment and prognoses are just wild-ass guesses. I appreciate your helping us uncover root causes and underlieing issues that the medical profession doesn’t even begin to address — but YOU do. A world of thanks to you!!

    • clairebeach says:

      Martha, I know what it’s like to look after a mother with horribly painful ulcers. It’s very distressing watching the woman you love in such pain. My mum has had ulcers for the last four years. I’ve also had shoulder problems. I wouldn’t call it frozen shoulder but there’s alot of restriction and awful pain. Just picking up a cup of coffee hurt. Both shoulders. I thought I’d delt with all my grief, although dealing with my own chronic pain has been a very stressful process. I ended up having steroid injections. I used to play a lot of racket sports and against men. So I was very right side dominate. Since an accident a long time ago. My right shoulder, forearm, bicep muscle and the right side of the neck up into the occipital bone(easier to spell than say) gets pulled out of position.. So many things you say resonate with my own experiences that I have to agree. I also think it’s a physical and mental component of some kind affecting the facia. Thanks for another video. Learning every day. It’s great. Feels good.

      • Martha says:

        Claire, I really appreciate your sharing your story about your experiences, including with your mum. It’s fascinating to uncover the similarities across stories, as Elisha points out. I think Elisha and others have suggested that oftentimes, shoulder pain can be reduced by releasing fascia in the chest area. That’s one of the strategies I’m experimenting with now. I’m sending you positive thoughts as you continue moving forward and working through pain issues. All the very best!

  • Todd says:

    My doc and I are putting on the finishing touches of cramming my RA into remission or whatever you want to call it. Due to the immune killing meds I took for 7 years it’s been a long reboot process. A friend of a friend turned me on to Mobility Mastery and I started my rolling around on the floor routine last night. Incredible instant relief. I have been doing a ton of good things for my boday and I just found another..Thanks so much for all you do Elisha.

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