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Frozen Shoulder

What is frozen shoulder?

Frozen shoulder is also known as adhesive capsulitis, and it causes pain and mobility issues in your shoulder joint. It begins gradually and worsens over time, and it can take between one and three years to get better. 

Frozen shoulder is more likely to occur in people who are recovering from a medical condition that prevents them from moving their arm, such as: 

  • Rotator cuff injury
  • A broken arm
  • Stroke
  • Surgery recovery

People with certain chronic diseases are more at risk for developing frozen shoulder. These conditions include:

  • Diabetes
  • Under or overactive thyroid
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Tuberculosis

Frozen shoulder is most common in people between the ages of 40 and 60, and it happens more often in women.

How does frozen shoulder happen?

Frozen shoulder happens when the connective tissue in the shoulder (called the shoulder capsule) thickens and becomes stiff and tight. 

Your shoulder is made up of three bones: the upper arm bone (humerus), shoulder blade (scapula), and collarbone (clavicle). The head of your upper arm bone fits into a rounded socket in your shoulder blade (the glenoid). A combination of muscles and tendons keeps your arm bone centered in your shoulder socket. These tissues are called the rotator cuff.

There are two joints in the shoulder. One joint is located where the clavicle meets the tip of the shoulder blade (acromion). This is called the acromioclavicular (AC) joint. The other joint is called the glenohumeral joint, and it’s located where the head of the humerus fits into the scapula. 
The connective tissue surrounding the joints and rotator cuff is the shoulder capsule. If a person can’t move their arm for too long or is at risk because of a chronic disease, they can develop frozen shoulder.

What are the symptoms of frozen shoulder?

The symptoms of frozen shoulder develop in three stages. Each stage can last several months or more. There are different symptoms in each stage:

  • Freezing stage (six weeks to nine months): Any movement of your shoulder becomes painful, and it becomes harder to move your shoulder.
  • Frozen stage (four to six months): Pain may begin to lessen during this stage, but your shoulder becomes stiffer.
  • Thawing stage (six months to two years): It becomes easier to move your shoulder again.

The pain associated with frozen shoulder tends to be worse at night and can cause problems with sleep.  

How do doctors diagnose frozen shoulder?

To diagnose frozen shoulder, your doctor will give you a physical exam. They may ask you to move your arm in certain direction to check for pain and see how well your arm moves (range of motion). Your doctor might also inject your arm with an anesthetic while moving your arms. 

Frozen shoulder can usually be diagnosed with a physical exam alone, but your doctor may also use imaging, like MRI or X-ray, to rule out other conditions.

Beaumont offers treatments for frozen shoulder

Frozen shoulders can get better on its own, but that can take up to three years. In most cases, doctors recommend conservative treatment first, including a pain management and physical therapy program. Beaumont shoulder specialists can help you develop a nonsurgical treatment plan for your frozen shoulder. You’ll receive the kind of expert care you can expect from a top orthopedic program.

If you and your doctor decide that surgery is the right treatment for your frozen shoulder, we’ll work with you to help you understand your surgical options. Surgery for frozen shoulder often involves procedures that cut or stretch the tight and scarred parts of your shoulder capsule. Our surgery team includes board-certified orthopedic surgeons and specialists, many of whom are innovative researchers and leaders in their field. Doctors and surgeons at Beaumont have been pioneering orthopedic technology and treatment for decades at our own state-of-the-art orthopedic laboratory.

Make an appointment at Beaumont

If you have shoulder pain or other symptoms of frozen shoulder, contact a Beaumont specialist at 800-633-7377 to get more information or make an appointment.