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Frozen shoulder

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.

Symptoms Causes Risk factors Prevention

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 sleep patterns.

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 movement.

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 fracture.

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:

  • Rotator cuff injury
  • Broken arm
  • Stroke
  • Recovery from surgery

Systemic diseases

People who have certain medical problems appear to be predisposed to develop frozen shoulder. Examples include:

  • Diabetes
  • Overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism)
  • Underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism)
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Tuberculosis
  • Parkinson's disease

One of the most common causes of frozen shoulder is the immobility that may result during recovery from a shoulder injury, broken arm or a stroke. If you've had an injury that makes it difficult to move your shoulder, talk to your doctor about what exercises would be best to maintain the range of motion in your shoulder joint.

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