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Frozen Shoulder - Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Frozen shoulder (also known as Adhesive Capsulitis) is a painful condition that causes fibrosis of the glenohumeral joint (or shoulder joint) capsule, resulting in pain, stiffness and limited motion in affected patients.

The limitation in movement affects both active and passive range of motion. That means that your movement is restricted at the shoulder joint both when you try to move your own arm and when someone else tries to move your arm for you. Frozen shoulder usually affects only one shoulder (left or right) and gets better on its own, but it can last two to three years or even longer if left untreated.


People who have frozen shoulder often go through three phases of symptoms:

● First Phase: FREEZING STAGE involves diffuse, severe, and disabling shoulder pain that is worse at night. During this phase, any movement of your shoulder causes pain, and your shoulder's range of motion starts to become limited.

● Second Phase: FROZEN STAGE during this phase, the shoulder becomes very stiff and has limited mobility, but the pain gradually lessens and using it becomes more difficult.

● Third Phase: THAWING STAGE at this phase, people gradually regain range of motion, your shoulder movement begins to improve.

If you have frozen shoulder, the pain and stiffness it causes may seriously interfere with your ability to do everyday tasks, such as dress and bathe, or even work. Even once the pain of frozen shoulder starts to improve, the shoulder stiffness may still be quite limiting.

For example, the condition might impede you from reaching overhead to the side , across your chest, or from rotating your arm all the way around from front to back (clipping/ unclipping of brassier). This could make it impossible for you to scratch your back or put on a coat.


Frozen shoulder often happens as a result of a shoulder injury, such as a rotator cuff tear or impingement, prolonged immobility such as a bone fracture affecting the shoulder, or shoulder surgery. It can also happen after people have other types of surgery, such as heart or brain surgery and also with patients with stroke.

Frozen shoulder can also happen without a preceding injury and tends to preferentially affect people with certain diseases and conditions. People with diabetes, for example, have an increased risk of developing frozen shoulder.

Frozen shoulder also seems to be more common among:

● People who have been immobilized for prolonged periods (irregardless of the cause of the immobility)

● People who have had a stroke

● People who have Parkinson disease

Experts do not know for sure what causes non- traumatic frozen shoulder, but they suspect it develops when the joint becomes inflamed and scar tissue forms. As this happens, the tissues inside the joint shrink and harden, making the shoulder harder to move.


Some cases of frozen shoulder gets better on its own, even without treatment. However, it may take 2- 3 yrs and most of these cases people never regain the full range of motion they had before.

  1. Physical Therapy

    • Before you undergo expensive or invasive surgery, try physical therapy

    • Physical therapists treat pain through movement, hands-on care, and patient education—your PT might want you to do certain exercises to improve your shoulder mobility thus increasing your physical activity.

    • Treatment of frozen shoulder by a physical therapist has been found to be as effective as surgery. (before and after below)

2. Pain Medication

  • If you are in pain, you can take non-prescription pain medications, such as acetaminophen (sample brand name: Tylenol) or medications called non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen (sample brand names: Advil, Motrin). However, take in mind that pain medications will NOT TREAT the cause of the pain therefore it wont cure your shoulder.

3. Surgery

  • Patients who do not get better with conservative treatments are recommended to undergo surgery to “release” the shoulder joint given that the symptoms already lasts for a year. In some cases, surgery can help, but surgery also carries risks and can cause damage of its own.

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