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Frozen Shoulder (Adhesive Capsulitis)

What is frozen shoulder?

Frozen shoulder, also known as adhesive capsulitis, results in pain and stiffness of the shoulder joint. Frozen shoulder can become gradually worse over time, making it very difficult for the shoulder to move. The shoulder capsule becomes stiff and thick bands of tissue called adhesions develop. Frozen shoulder is not common, but affects mostly women and individuals between ages 40 and 60. View the Frozen Shoulder printable information sheet here.

What causes frozen shoulder?

The cause of frozen shoulder is not clear, however, experts believe that certain risk factors can make individuals more prone to developing this condition. Factors that can contribute to the development of frozen shoulder include:

  • Gender (Women are more prone)
  • Diseases such as diabetes, thyroid disorders and Parkinson’s disease
  • Lack of mobilization particularly after surgery or an injury

What are the symptoms of frozen shoulder?

Frozen shoulder is a condition that develops slowly and in three stages. Pain, stiffness and difficulty moving your shoulder are the main symptoms experienced. Pain is typically described as dull and achy.

The stages of frozen shoulder include:

  • Freezing Stage — pain when the joint is moved, limited range of motion
  • Frozen Stage — joint stiffer and difficult to move, though pain diminishes
  • Thawing Stage — range of motion eventually improves and pain is resolved

If you suspect that you are experiencing frozen shoulder symptoms, you should make an appointment to see your physician and have your condition properly evaluated.

How is frozen shoulder diagnosed?

Frozen shoulder is best diagnosed with a physical examination. Your physician will ask you questions about your symptoms and overall health. Your range of motion,  will be evaluated, both passively and actively. During the passive movement evaluation, your physician will move your shoulder in different directions and at different angles. Your physician will determine if your range of motion is limited and as your joint is examined, will assess your level of pain. Your physician may use an X-ray or MRI to confirm the diagnosis and rule out other conditions.

How is frozen shoulder treated?

Frozen shoulder can be treated with a variety of methods including:

  • Over the counter pain medications, such as Tylenol
  • Anti-inflammatory medications
  • Corticosteroid injections
  • Physical therapy
  • Joint distention

In some cases, surgery is necessary to help alleviate symptoms. If little success is found with other treatment options, or if internal scar tissue (adhesions) occur, arthroscopic surgery can successfully remove the scar tissue and correct the condition. In addition, a procedure called shoulder manipulation can also be performed. This procedure is also performed under general anesthesia. Your doctor will manipulate the movement of your shoulder, causing the scar tissue and capsule to tear or stretch, providing renewed mobility.

Frozen shoulder can take up to 3 years to be fully resolved. Most people find relief of their symptoms with nonsurgical or noninvasive methods. The goal of treatment is to resolve pain and restore strength to the shoulder.


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