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Adhesive Capsulitis

Is frozen shoulder the same as adhesive capsulitis?

No, these are different terms. Frozen shoulder is a general term used to describe any shoulder that is stiff. Adhesive capsulitis is a very specific term for a condition that involves the spontaneous, gradual onset of shoulder stiffness and pain caused by tightening of the joint capsule. Sometimes it can be difficult to distinguish a frozen shoulder from one with adhesive capsulitis, and this often leads to confusion between these two terms.

What is adhesive capsulitis?

Adhesive capsulitis is a condition in which there is pain and stiffness or motion loss in the shoulder. The condition most often affects people between 40 and 60 years old and is more common in women. Adhesive capsulitis does not appear to be linked to arm dominance or occupation.

What causes adhesive capsulitis?

Adhesive capsulitis occurs as the area around the shoulder joint thickens and contracts. However, the reasons for the condition are not fully understood. It sometimes occurs after the shoulder is immobilized for some period of time. Adhesive capsulitis is more common among people with diabetes and affects 10% to 20% of diabetics. The increased likelihood of adhesive capsulitis also is linked to the following medical problems:

  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Cardiac disease or surgery
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Hypothyroidism

What are the symptoms of adhesive capsulitis?

Usually, there is a dull or aching pain in the outer shoulder area. Sometimes the pain occurs in the upper arm. The most frequent symptom of frozen shoulder is stiffness or restricted motion.

How is adhesive capsulitis diagnosed?

The diagnosis is established with a doctor’s examination and based on the symptoms the patient is having. In some cases, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or X-rays can help to rule out other potential causes of the pain and stiffness in the shoulder.

How is adhesive capsulitis treated?

There are various treatments for adhesive capsulitis. Even though the condition usually gets better on its own, improvement can take two to three years. Over 90% of patients improve with non-surgical treatments, including the following:

  • Physical therapy
  • Heat
  • Corticosteroid injections
  • Anti-inflammatory medications

Surgery can be performed for patients who see no improvement after non-surgical measures are taken. With surgical intervention, the goal is to stretch or release the shoulder’s contracted joint capsule. One surgical approach involves manipulation of the shoulder while the patient is under anesthesia. The surgeon forces the shoulder to move and causes the joint capsule to tear or stretch. Another surgical approach is arthroscopic surgery, in which several small incisions are made around the shoulder. The surgeon uses a small camera to view instruments that are inserted through the incisions. The instruments cut through the joint capsule’s tight portions, allowing the shoulder to move.

In many cases, both types of surgery are used to obtain the best results.

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This information is provided by Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition.

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