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Patient Education

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Frozen Shoulder

Condition Basics

What is frozen shoulder?

Frozen shoulder (adhesive capsulitis) is stiffness, pain, and limited range of movement in your shoulder. It may happen after an injury or overuse. Or it may happen from a disease such as diabetes or a stroke. The tissues around the joint stiffen, scar tissue forms, and shoulder movements become hard to do and painful. The condition usually comes on slowly. And then it goes away slowly over the course of a year or more.

What causes it?

Frozen shoulder can develop when you stop using the joint normally because of pain, injury, or a chronic health condition, such as diabetes or a stroke. Any shoulder problem can lead to frozen shoulder if you do not work to keep full range of motion.

Frozen shoulder occurs:

  • After surgery or injury.
  • Most often in people 40 to 70 years old.
  • More often in women (especially in postmenopausal women) than in men.
  • Most often in people with chronic diseases.

How is it diagnosed?

Your doctor may suspect frozen shoulder if a physical exam reveals limited shoulder movement. An X-ray may be done to see whether symptoms are from another condition such as arthritis or a broken bone.

How is frozen shoulder treated?

Treatment for frozen shoulder usually starts with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and application of heat to the affected area, followed by gentle stretching. Ice and medicines (including corticosteroid injections) may also be used to reduce pain and swelling. And physical therapy can help increase your range of motion. A frozen shoulder can take a year or more to get better.

If treatment is not helping, surgery is sometimes done to loosen some of the tight tissues around the shoulder. Two surgeries are often done. In one surgery, called manipulation under anesthesia, you are put to sleep and then your arm is moved into positions that stretch the tight tissue. The other surgery uses an arthroscope to cut through tight tissues and scar tissue. These surgeries can both be done at the same time.

How can you prevent it?

Gentle, progressive range-of-motion exercises, stretching, and using your shoulder more may help prevent frozen shoulder after surgery or an injury. Experts don't know what causes some cases of frozen shoulder, and it may not be possible to prevent these. But be patient and follow your doctor's advice. Frozen shoulder nearly always gets better over time.

Related Information

Credits

Current as of: November 16, 2020

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Patrick J. McMahon MD - Orthopedic Surgery