Frozen Shoulder


As we age, some degree of joint pain is natural. We may have achy hips when the temperature drops, or creaky knees when climbing stairs. But some people develop unusual pain and stiffness that makes it hard to move and use their joints.

About two percent of the population develop “frozen shoulder,”  also known as adhesive capsulitis, a condition that causes the shoulder joint to lose function. If you’ve developed shoulder pain and limited range of motion, it may be time to talk to your doctor. Even though frozen shoulder can get better, it requires specific treatment including shoulder exercises. Your doctor will also want to rule out other causes of shoulder pain and stiffness, including arthritis or a torn rotator cuff.

Understanding Frozen Shoulder

Your shoulder is a ball-and-socket joint. A group of tendons and muscles called the rotator cuff holds your upper arm inside the socket. And a strong band of connective tissue called the shoulder capsule wraps around your rotator cuff and shoulder joint. Sometimes the shoulder capsule thickens and tightens, restricting your shoulder movement.

Stages of Frozen Shoulder

Frozen shoulder often comes on gradually in three stages. Each of these stages can last for several months. The total time from onset to recovery may take up to three years.

  1. During the freezing stage, you develop worsening pain in your shoulder. The pain gets worse during movement, and you begin to lose range of motion.
  2. During the frozen stage, your pain may improve but your shoulder will be stiff and hard to move. You’ll likely have trouble performing normal daily activities.
  3. During the thawing stage, you slowly regain shoulder strength and movement.

Causes & Risk Factors

One of the most common causes of frozen shoulder is due to a previous shoulder injury, broken arm or sometimes a stroke. Additionally,  a medical condition such as diabetes is a contributing factor. 

Whether your symptoms come out of nowhere, or appear after your shoulder was immobilized in a sling, Mercy’s orthopedic specialists can help. 

Frozen Shoulder Treatment at Mercy

Frozen shoulder treatment usually requires a combination of medicine and exercise, including:

  • Over-the-counter medications that reduce pain and swelling, including aspirin or ibuprofen.
  • Steroid shots (cortisone injections) to reduce inflammation.
  • Orthopedic rehabilitation to stretch and strengthen your shoulder, and restore movement. Your physical therapist may prescribe exercises for you to perform at home.

Arthroscopic Shoulder Surgery

Surgery is often used as a last resort when other treatments have failed. During arthroscopic shoulder surgery, your doctor may remove scar tissue or cut through tight sections of the shoulder capsule.

Most people with frozen shoulder return to normal (or near-normal) shoulder function, but it takes time and commitment. We know it’s natural to feel frustrated when you’re not getting better as quickly as you’d like. But you can rest assured that our orthopedic team will be with you every step of the way.

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