Frozen shoulder, also known as adhesive capsulitis, is a condition
characterized by stiffness and pain in your shoulder joint. Signs and symptoms
typically begin gradually, worsen over time and then resolve, usually within
one or two years.
Your risk of developing frozen shoulder increases if you’re recovering from
a medical condition or procedure that affects the mobility of your arm — such
as a stroke or a mastectomy.
Treatment for frozen shoulder involves stretching exercises and, sometimes,
the injection of corticosteroids and numbing medications into the joint
capsule. In a small percentage of cases, surgery may be needed to loosen the
joint capsule so that it can move more freely.
Frozen shoulder typically develops slowly, and in three stages. Each of
these stages can last a number of months.
Painful stage. During
this stage, pain occurs with any movement of your shoulder, and your
shoulder’s range of motion starts to become limited.
Frozen stage. Pain
may begin to diminish during this stage. However, your shoulder becomes
stiffer, and your range of motion decreases notably.
Thawing stage. During
the thawing stage, the range of motion in your shoulder begins to improve.
For some people, the pain worsens at night, sometimes disrupting normal
The bones, ligaments and tendons that make up your shoulder joint are
encased in a capsule of connective tissue. Frozen shoulder occurs when this
capsule thickens and tightens around the shoulder joint, restricting its
Doctors aren’t sure why this happens to some people and not to others,
although it’s more likely to occur in people who have recently experienced
prolonged immobilization of their shoulder, such as after surgery or an arm
Although the exact cause is unknown, certain factors may increase your risk
of developing frozen shoulder.
Age and sex
People 40 and older are more likely to experience frozen shoulder. Most of
the people who develop the condition are women.
Immobility or reduced mobility
People who have experienced prolonged immobility or reduced mobility of
their shoulder are at higher risk of developing frozen shoulder. Immobility may
be the result of many factors, including:
People who have certain medical problems appear to be predisposed to develop
frozen shoulder. Examples include:
How is it treated?
Treatment for frozen shoulder usually starts with nonsteroidal
anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
and application of heat to the affected area, followed by gentle stretching.
Ice and medicines (including corticosteroid injections) may also be used to
reduce pain and swelling. And physical
therapy can help increase your range of motion. A frozen shoulder can
take a year or more to get better.
If treatment is not helping, surgery is sometimes done to loosen some of the
tight tissues around the shoulder. Two surgeries are often done. In one
surgery, called manipulation under anesthesia, you are put to sleepand then your
arm is moved into positions that stretch the tight tissue. The other surgery
uses an arthroscope to
cut through tight tissues and scar tissue. These surgeries can both be done at
the same time.