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Frozen shoulder

What is frozen shoulder?

Frozen shoulder is the more commonly used term for adhesive capsulitis or stiff shoulder. The soft-tissue lining of the shoulder ball-and-socket joint becomes inflamed and scarred and causes the shoulder to lose its ability to move freely above the head and to rotate away from the body. The exact cause of frozen shoulder is unknown, but having a shoulder injury, rotator cuff disease, thyroid problem or diabetes seem to be factors in its development.

  • Diagnosis

    How is frozen shoulder 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.

  • Causes

    What causes frozen shoulder?

    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.
  • When to call

    Frozen shoulder: When to call

    Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

    • You have severe pain.
    • Your arm is cool or pale or changes color.
    • You have tingling or numbness in your arm.

    Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

    • You have increased pain.
    • You have new pain that develops in another area. For example, you have pain in your arm, hand, or elbow.
    • You do not get better as expected.
  • Treatment

    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.


    Copyrighted material adapted with permission from Healthwise, Incorporated. This information does not replace the advice of a doctor.