What is Frozen Shoulder? | Revere Health

Frozen shoulder, sometimes referred to as adhesive capsulitis, is a condition that affects the shoulder joint. The shoulder is a complex system of bones, ligaments, joints and muscles. The tissue that surrounds this system is called the shoulder capsule. When the shoulder capsule thickens and tightens, it can restrict movement of the shoulder.

What causes it?

The causes of frozen shoulder aren’t clear because it occurs in some people but not others. Doctors do know that there are certain risk factors, for example:

  • Women are more likely to have frozen shoulder.
  • People 40 and over are more likely to develop the condition.
  • If you have a shoulder injury that reduces or limits mobility, the risk of developing frozen shoulder is higher.
  • People with systemic diseases, such as Parkinson’s disease, tuberculosis, diabetes and underactive or overactive thyroid have a higher risk of developing the condition.

Frozen shoulder is also common after another injury that leaves the shoulder immobile, such as a mastectomy or arm injury.

What does it feel like?

The symptoms of adhesive capsulitis depend on what stage it’s in:

  • The freezing stage is the first stage in which you develop pain in your shoulder, generally when you move it. It may hurt worse at night and continue to get worse. You may also have limited mobility in your shoulder. This phase lasts six to nine months.
  • During the frozen stage, you may experience less pain. However, the stiffness may get worse. It will be harder to move your shoulder. This phase can last four to 12 months.
  • The thawing stage can last from six to 24 months. Your range of motion will start to get better.

Frozen shoulder is often diagnosed from the symptoms alone. Imaging tests can ensure that the problem is frozen shoulder and not something more serious.  

How is it treated?

Frozen shoulder is often treated non-surgically at first. Over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), such as ibuprofen or aspirin, can help relieve pain and swelling. Your orthopedist will also likely recommend physical therapy to help improve your range of motion, depending on which phase of the condition you’re in.

If symptoms don’t improve or become intense, there are other treatment options:

  • Corticosteroid injections into your shoulder joint can reduce the pain and improve mobility.
  • Your doctor can inject sterile water into the capsule, which helps stretch it and make it easier for you to move. This is called joint distension.
  • Arthroscopic surgery is rare for frozen shoulder, but when nothing else helps it is an option. The surgeon removes scar tissue and adhesions within your shoulder to ease up the tension.
  • Shoulder manipulation can also help loosen the tissue around the shoulder, but most orthopedic surgeons prefer arthroscopic surgery over this method.

Contact an orthopedic specialist for further information. 

Dr. Larsen chose to become an orthopedic surgeon after growing up watching his father work in the same profession. He observed the love his father had for taking care of people and improving lives by fixing problems with their knees and shoulders. Dr. Larsen enjoys communicating with his patients and working together to find a solution, either through surgery or lifestyle changes.

This information is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. You should always consult your doctor before making decisions about your health.

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