Frozen shoulder is a painful condition in which the shoulder becomes stiff and inflamed, and movement becomes limited.
Frozen shoulder, also called adhesive capsulitis, is a painful condition in which the movement of the shoulder becomes limited.
Frozen shoulder occurs when the strong connective tissue surrounding the shoulder joint (called the shoulder joint capsule) become thick, stiff, and inflamed. (The joint capsule contains the ligaments that attach the top of the upper arm bone [humeral head] to the shoulder socket [glenoid], firmly holding the joint in place. This is more commonly known as the "ball and socket" joint.)
The condition is called "frozen" shoulder because the more pain that is felt, the less likely the shoulder will be used. Lack of use causes the shoulder capsule to thicken and becomes tight, making the shoulder even more difficult to move -- it is "frozen" in its position.
Age: Adults, most commonly between 40 and 60 years old.
Gender: More common in women than men.
Recent shoulder injury: Any shoulder injury or surgery that results in the need to keep the shoulder from moving (i.e., by using a shoulder brace, sling, shoulder wrap, etc.). Examples include a rotator cuff tear and fractures of the shoulder blade, collarbone or upper arm.
Diabetes: Between 10 and 20 percent of individuals with diabetes mellitus develop frozen shoulder.
Other health diseases and conditions: Includes stroke, hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid gland), hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid gland), Parkinson’s disease and heart disease. Stroke is a risk factor for frozen shoulder because movement of an arm and shoulder may be limited. Why other diseases and conditions increase the risk of developing a frozen shoulder is not clear.
Symptoms of frozen shoulder are divided into three stages:
To diagnose frozen shoulder, your doctor will:
Treatment usually involves pain relief methods until the initial phase passes. If the problem persists, therapy and surgery may be needed to regain motion if it doesn’t return on its own.
Some simple treatments include:
If these simple treatments have not relieved pain and shoulder stiffness after about a year trial, other procedures may be tried. These include:
These two procedures are often used together to get better results.
The chance of a frozen shoulder can be prevented or at least lessened if physical therapy is started shortly after any shoulder injury in which shoulder movement is painful or difficult. Your orthopaedic doctor or physical therapist can develop an exercise program to meet your specific needs.
Simple treatments, such as use of pain relievers and shoulder exercises, in combination with a cortisone injection, are often enough to restore motion and function within a year or less. Even left completely untreated, range of motion and use of the shoulder continue to get better on their own, but often over a slower course of time. Full or nearly full recovery is seen after about two years.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 01/19/2019.
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