Frozen Shoulder

What is frozen shoulder?

Frozen shoulder (also known as adhesive capsulitis) is a condition in which the connective tissue lining of the shoulder joint becomes inflamed, thickened, and scarred, resulting in often-debilitating shoulder pain and stiffness.

What causes frozen shoulder?

Frozen shoulder may occur as a result of an inciting event such as a fracture or shoulder surgery, but it is more commonly idiopathic, meaning that the cause in most cases is unknown. Idiopathic frozen shoulder is more common in women than men. It occurs most often in people between the ages of 40 and 60. Endocrine abnormalities such as hypothyroidism and diabetes are known risk factors.

People suffering from frozen shoulder often recall a minor injury (such as dropping a suitcase, or a “muscle strain” during exercise) followed by increasing shoulder pain and stiffness over the ensuing weeks to months.

What are the symptoms of frozen shoulder?

The two main symptoms of frozen shoulder are shoulder pain and stiffness. The pain most often occurs with reaching and may be severe. Stiffness, or loss of shoulder range of motion, is universally present in frozen shoulder as well, but many patients do not notice this or report it to their physician. This sometimes results in misdiagnosis by the physician and frustration on the part of the patient.

How is frozen shoulder diagnosed?

Dr. Driscoll will discuss your symptoms with you and perform a thorough physical examination of your shoulder. This discussion and physical examination is sufficient for the diagnosis of frozen shoulder in most cases. X-Rays are routinely obtained to rule out arthritis or other bone problems. If an additional injury is suspected or if symptoms do not improve with non-surgical management, an MRI may be obtained as well.

What is the treatment for frozen shoulder?

In the majority of cases, frozen shoulder improves and eventually resolves over time. The recovery process can be accelerated with a physical therapy regimen of gentle passive stretching and, sometimes, a corticosteroid injection into the shoulder to reduce associated inflammation. The recovery process takes 12-18 months on average, but may be longer. Occasionally, surgery is required for those who fail to improve adequately with non-surgical treatment. The surgery, called Arthroscopic Lysis of Adhesions is discussed separately.