This factsheet is for people who have frozen shoulder, or who would like information about it.
Frozen shoulder (adhesive capsulitis) is a condition where you’re unable to move your shoulder as you usually would. It usually affects people aged between 40 and 60.
- About frozen shoulder
- Symptoms of frozen shoulder
- Causes of frozen shoulder
- Diagnosis of frozen shoulder
- Treatment of frozen shoulder
- Prevention of frozen shoulder
About frozen shoulder
Your shoulder joint (also known as the glenohumeral joint) is a ball-and-socket joint, formed by the ball-shaped end of your upper arm bone (humerus) and a shallow socket on the edge of the shoulder blade (scapula).
Frozen shoulder is a condition that occurs as a result of inflammation (soreness and swelling) to the glenohumeral joint and its surrounding capsule. People aged between 40 and 60 are most commonly affected. Frozen shoulder is more common among women than men.
There are three stages of frozen shoulder.
- Stage one. This is known as the ‘freezing’ stage and you will slowly develop pain which gets worse as you lose motion in your shoulder. This stage can last between six weeks and nine months.
- Stage two. This is called the ‘frozen’ stage. The pain usually settles but your shoulder will remain stiff. This usually lasts between four and nine months.
- Stage three. During this final recovery stage you will begin to get movement back in the shoulder. This stage can last between five months and two years.
Symptoms of frozen shoulder
Your shoulder will be painful and stiff. The stiffness will make it difficult for you to take your hand behind your head or back and to take your arm out to the side. You may also have pain when you bring your hand to your mouth The pain usually comes on gradually, and is often worse when you move your shoulder joint. It may be worse at night, and you may have difficulty sleeping on the affected side. The pain will be dull or aching and is usually located over your outer shoulder and sometimes your upper arm.
You will be unable to move your shoulder as you usually would.
Causes of frozen shoulder
Frozen shoulder is caused by inflammation of your shoulder joint and its surrounding capsule. The exact reasons why you may develop a frozen shoulder aren’t fully understood at present. We know that it’s more common in people with diabetes. Other medical conditions that increase the risk of frozen shoulder include hypothyroidism, Parkinson’s disease and cardiovascular disease. You’re also more likely to develop frozen shoulder if you’ve had surgery to the joint.
Frozen shoulder can sometimes develop if your shoulder is immobilised for a long period of time. This can happen after a shoulder injury, such as a fracture.
Diagnosis of frozen shoulder
If you think you have frozen shoulder, you should visit your orthopaedic surgeon. He or she will ask about your symptoms and examine you.
Your orthopaedic surgeon may refer you for an X-ray, MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) or ultrasound scan to rule out other causes of your shoulder stiffness and pain, such as rotator cuff injury or osteoarthritis.
Treatment of frozen shoulder
The treatment for frozen shoulder depends on the stage of your condition.
Your physiotherapist may also show you exercises to do that stretch your muscles and can improve the movement and strength of your shoulder. You should start these exercises as soon as possible, when your pain has eased. This can take some time and the exercises may be a bit painful. Your physiotherapist will be able to advise you on this.
If your frozen shoulder is severe, your doctor may give you an injection into your shoulder joint.
You may need to have surgery if other types of treatment haven’t been helpful. You may have shoulder manipulation, or rarely a shoulder arthroscopy. Shoulder manipulation means that your surgeon will move your shoulder around, while you are under anaesthesia. A shoulder arthroscopy is a type of keyhole surgery which can be used to look inside and treat your shoulder joint. Sometimes both of these procedures are done at the same time. Most people who have surgery will have very good results. If you have surgery, you will need to have physiotherapy to maintain the motion in your shoulder. It can take between six weeks and three months for you to recover.
Prevention of frozen shoulder
If you have injured your shoulder then early rehabilitation is important to prevent frozen shoulder.