Frozen shoulder is the common name for
adhesive capsulitis, which is a shoulder condition that limits your range of
motion. When the tissues in your shoulder joint become thicker and tighter,
scar tissue develops over time. As a result, your shoulder joint doesn’t have
enough space to rotate properly. Common symptoms include swelling, pain, and
stiffness. You’re more likely to have the condition if you’re between the ages
of 40 and 60.
What Are the Symptoms of a
You become aware of a frozen shoulder
when it begins to hurt. The pain then causes you to limit your movement. Moving
the shoulder less and less increases its stiffness. Before long, you find that
you can’t move your shoulder as you once did. Reaching for an item on a high
shelf becomes difficult, if not impossible. When it’s severe, you might not be
able to do everyday tasks that involve shoulder movement such as dressing.
What Causes a Frozen
If you have a hormonal imbalance,
diabetes, or a weakened immune system, you may be prone to joint inflammation.
A long period of inactivity due to an injury, illness, or surgery also makes
you more vulnerable to inflammation and adhesions, which are bands of stiff
tissue. In serious cases, scar tissue may form. This severely limits your range
of motion. Usually, the condition takes two to nine months to develop.
Who Is at Risk for a Frozen
The condition is more likely to occur
in middle age and is more common in women.
If you have diabetes, your risk for
the condition is three times greater.
Others at risk include:
- people who must wear a shoulder sling for a long
period after an injury or surgery
- people must remain still for long periods of
time due to a recent stroke or surgery
- people with thyroid disorders
How Is a Frozen Shoulder
If you feel stiffness and pain in your
shoulder, see your doctor. A physical exam will help to assess your range of
motion. Your doctor will observe as you perform specific movements and measure
range of motion of the shoulder, such as touching your opposite shoulder with
A few tests may also be necessary.
Your doctor might do a magnetic resonance imaging scan (MRI) to rule out a tear
in your rotator cuff or other pathology. X-rays may also be taken to check for
arthritis or other abnormalities. You may need an arthrogram for the X-ray,
which involves injecting dye into your shoulder joint so that the doctor can
see its structure.
How Is a Frozen Shoulder
You can leave a frozen shoulder
untreated, but the pain and stiffness can remain for up to three years. A
combination of the following can speed up your recovery:
- physical therapy
- home care
Physical therapy is the most common
treatment for a frozen shoulder. The goal is to stretch your shoulder joint and
regain the lost motion. It can take anywhere from a few weeks to nine months to
see progress. A home exercise program of gentle range of motion exercises is
important. If you don't see progress after six months of intense, daily
exercises, speak to your doctor about other options.
To treat the pain and reduce your
joint inflammation, your doctor may recommend an anti- inflammatory medication like
aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen sodium. A steroid injection you’re your shoulder
joint may also help.
Placing an ice pack on your shoulder
for 15 minutes at a time several times per day can help to decrease pain. If
you’re working with a physical therapist, the exercises can be done at home.
Your physical therapist will provide instructions on the types of exercises you
must do, how often to do them, and when to push yourself harder. Most people
with a frozen shoulder can improve their condition without surgery.
If physical therapy doesn’t improve
your condition, surgery is an option. From a surgical standpoint, your options are
to manipulate the shoulder and put it through a full range of motion under a
general anesthetic to help break up any adhesions. Another option is arthroscopic
surgery. This type of surgery involves making a small cut in your shoulder and
using a camera called an “arthroscope” to remove scar tissue or release it. This
allows the shoulder to recover its lost motion. If your frozen shoulder is the
result of an injury, surgery is usually more successful if it’s performed
within a few weeks of the injury.
Surgery is usually done on an
outpatient basis. Your stitches will most likely be removed after 10 days. Postoperative
physical therapy is usually required as well. Many patients have their full
range of motion back within three months.
Surgery carries risks, so talk with
your doctor before deciding on any procedure. Some people still have pain or
stiffness afterward or can’t handle the pain of physical therapy.
What Can Be Expected in the
Most people recover within two years
without treatment. Physical therapy and pain medications speed up this
progress. If you have surgery, it’s important to continue the therapy exercises
in the following months so that the problem doesn’t return.
How Can a Frozen Shoulder
Early treatment helps keep the
condition from getting worse. If you have diabetes, properly managing it can
reduce your risk for a frozen shoulder.