Frozen Shoulder

If you feel nagging pain and stiffness in your shoulder, you may have frozen shoulder. This problem is also referred to as adhesive capsulitis. It is not well understood. But it often improves over time with treatment.

Symptoms of frozen shoulder

The first symptom you may have is shoulder pain. You may feel as if you’ve injured your shoulder. Other symptoms you may have include:

  • Increased shoulder pain as you move your arm
  • Shoulder stiffness that makes it hard to get daily tasks done
  • Shoulder pain that keeps you from sleeping
  • An arm that you can’t raise or rotate beyond a certain point
  • Front view of shoulder joint with muscles showing a contracted capsule and contracted ligament.

Who develops frozen shoulder?

The cause of frozen shoulder is not well understood. Women are more likely than men to have frozen shoulder. This problem also happens more often in women who are at least in their 40s. In some cases, people who have injured their shoulder may later develop frozen shoulder. Certain medical conditions, such as diabetes, thyroid disease, Parkinson's and cardiac disease can also increase someone's risk for frozen shoulder.

When you have frozen shoulder

Your shoulder is a joint that is made up of many parts. They help you raise, rotate, and swing your arm. But if you have frozen shoulder, certain parts of your shoulder joint contract (shrink and pull in). This often causes pain and stiffness when you try to move your arm.


To treat a frozen shoulder, stretches are tried first. If stretches alone don’t help, your healthcare provider may suggest adding other treatments. Keep in mind that no treatment replaces shoulder stretches. After any of these treatments, you’ll need to start your exercises again as your healthcare provider advises.

Injection therapy

Your healthcare provider may suggest injection therapy. This does not cure frozen shoulder. But it may reduce pain, so that you can do your stretches more comfortably. The injection typically includes two medicines. One is an anesthetic to numb the shoulder. The other is a steroid, such as cortisone, to help reduce painful swelling. It can take from a few hours to a couple of days before the injection starts to have an effect. 

Surgical treatment

Surgery may be suggested if stretching doesn’t relieve your pain and stiffness. In some cases, both procedures described below are done at the same time.

  • Manipulation. Your healthcare provider slowly raises your arm until the adhesions in the capsule are freed (released). The capsule is the sheet of tough fibers surrounding the bones that make up the shoulder joint.
  • Capsular release. Your healthcare provider frees the capsule adhesions through an incision. This may be done if manipulation did not release the capsule. Surgery on the shoulder may be done through a few small incisions. This is called arthroscopic surgery. Or, it may be done through one large incision. This is known as open surgery.

You may start doing shoulder stretches soon after manipulation and capsular release—perhaps even the same day. Your healthcare provider will discuss the plan for your treatment and stretches before the procedure.

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Symptoms and Screenings for Frozen Shoulder

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Causes and Preventions for Frozen Shoulder

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Education and Resources for Frozen Shoulder

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Support groups for Frozen Shoulder

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Vidant Health can connect you to health care professionals to help you understand your condition and guide you through the treatment process. Let’s chat.

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