Frozen Shoulder

Topic Overview

What is frozen shoulder?

Frozen shoulder (adhesive capsulitis) is stiffness, pain, and limited range of movement in your shoulder that may follow an injury. The tissues around the joint stiffen, scar tissue forms, and shoulder movements become difficult and painful.

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 arthritis. 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.

How is frozen shoulder diagnosed?

Your doctor may suspect frozen shoulder if a physical exam reveals limited shoulder movement. An arthrogram, which is an X-ray image of your joint taken after a contrast material (such as a dye or air) is injected into it, can help confirm the diagnosis.

How is it 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. In more serious cases, surgery may be needed.

Can frozen shoulder be prevented?

Gentle, progressive range-of-motion exercises, stretching, and using your shoulder more may help prevent frozen shoulder.

Related Information

References

Other Works Consulted

  • McMahon PJ, Kaplan LD (2006). Shoulder stiffness section of Sports medicine. In HB Skinner, ed., Current Diagnosis and Treatment in Orthopedics, 4th ed, pp. 208–210. New York: McGraw-Hill.
  • Mercier LR (2008). Frozen shoulder (adhesive capsulitis) section of The shoulder. In Practical Orthopedics, 6th ed, pp. 66–67. Philadelphia: Mosby Elsevier.

Credits

Author Shannon Erstad, MBA/MPH
Editor Kathleen M. Ariss, MS
Associate Editor Pat Truman, MATC
Primary Medical Reviewer William M. Green, MD - Emergency Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Kenneth J. Koval, MD - Orthopedic Surgery, Orthopedic Trauma
Specialist Medical Reviewer Patrick J. McMahon, MD - Orthopedics
Last Updated September 23, 2009

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