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 to three years.
Your risk of developing frozen shoulder increases if you’re recovering from a medical condition or procedure that prevents you from moving your arm — such as a stroke or a mastectomy.
Treatment for frozen shoulder involves range-of-motion exercises and, sometimes, corticosteroids and numbing medications injected into the joint capsule. In a small percentage of cases, arthroscopic surgery may be indicated to loosen the joint capsule so that it can move more freely.
It’s unusual for frozen shoulder to recur in the same shoulder, but some people can develop it in the opposite shoulder.
Frozen shoulder typically develops slowly, and in three stages. Each stage can last a number of months.
For some people, the pain worsens at night, sometimes disrupting sleep.
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, although it’s more likely to occur in people who have diabetes or those who recently had to immobilize their shoulder for a long period, such as after surgery or an arm fracture.
Certain factors may increase your risk of developing frozen shoulder.
Age and sex
People 40 and older, particularly women, are more likely to have frozen shoulder.
Immobility or reduced mobility
People who’ve had prolonged immobility or reduced mobility of the shoulder are at higher risk of developing frozen shoulder. Immobility may be the result of many factors, including:
People who have certain diseases appear more likely to develop frozen shoulder. Diseases that might increase risk include:
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 exercises you can do to maintain the range of motion in your shoulder joint.
Continue to use the involved shoulder and extremity as much as possible given your pain and range-of-motion limits. Applying heat or cold to your shoulder can help relieve pain.
Most frozen shoulder treatment involves controlling shoulder pain and preserving as much range of motion in the shoulder as possible.
Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as aspirin and ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others), can help reduce pain and inflammation associated with frozen shoulder. In some cases, your doctor may prescribe stronger pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory drugs.
A physical therapist can teach you range-of-motion exercises to help recover as much mobility in your shoulder as possible. Your commitment to doing these exercises is important to optimize recovery of your mobility.
Surgical and other procedures
Most frozen shoulders get better on their own within 12 to 18 months. For persistent symptoms, your doctor may suggest: