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Frozen Shoulder (Adhesive Capsulitis)​

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What Is Frozen Shoulder?

Frozen shoulder syndrome is a rare condition involving the thickening and contracting of the muscles surrounding the shoulder joint. It's characterized by the inability to move the shoulder and may cause shoulder pain.

Frozen shoulder stages

Frozen shoulder often occurs in three stages:

  1. Freezing stage — involves a slow progression of shoulder stiffness and pain. The shoulder begins to lose motion as pain progresses. This stage can span from six weeks to nine months.
  2. Frozen stage — features an improvement in pain levels, but stiffness persists. This stage may last between four and nine months.
  3. Thawing stage — occurs when the shoulder motion gradually returns to a normal state of functioning. This stage can take anywhere from five to 26 months.

Frozen shoulder causes and risk factors

According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgery, frozen shoulder occurs in 2 percent of the general population.

Age and gender are both risk factors for frozen shoulder. Those between the ages of 40 and 60 are more likely to get frozen shoulder. It's also more common in women.

Others at risk for frozen shoulder include those with pre-existing conditions like:

  • Diabetes
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Parkinson's disease
  • Heart disease and other cardiac conditions

Frozen shoulder complications

If left untreated, frozen shoulder may cause:

  • Pain in the shoulders
  • Loss of mobility
  • Reduced range of motion
  • Muscle trouble that can worsen and persist for a long time

Complete immobilization is also a common complication of frozen shoulder.

Why choose UPMC Orthopaedic Care for frozen shoulder treatment?

  • UPMC has one of the highest-funded orthopaedic research departments in the nation, with access to ongoing clinical trials, particularly useful for those with frozen shoulder.
  • We offer expert orthopaedic surgery services and treatments to people of all ages to help them get back to enjoying their lives. 

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Frozen Shoulder Symptoms and Diagnosis

Frozen shoulder symptoms

Since frozen shoulder presents in three stages, symptoms often increase and change over time.

The most common symptoms of frozen shoulder include:

  • Dull or aching pain in the outer shoulder or upper arm
  • Increased trouble with attempted motion
  • Muscle stiffness
  • Restricted motion
  • Inability to move the joint

Frozen shoulder diagnosis

Based on the results of a physical exam and your medical history, your doctor may order further tests to diagnose frozen shoulder,such as:

  • X-rays to gain a closer look at the shoulder for changes in bone structure over time.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to view the soft tissues around the shoulder for the presence of a muscle sprain, tear, or freeze. 

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Frozen Shoulder Treatment

Treatment goals for frozen shoulder

Since frozen shoulder generally improves on its own over time, treatment goals focus on:

  • Managing any pain or stiffness to keep you comfortable.
  • Restoring or preserving range of motion.

Treatment types for frozen shoulder

At UPMC Orthopaedic Care, we offer both nonsurgical treatment and surgery options for frozen shoulder.

According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgery, more than 90 percent of those with frozen shoulder can improve with nonsurgical treatment methods.

The two most common nonsurgical treatments for frozen shoulder are:

  • Anti-inflammatory pain medications
  • Physical therapy

Usually, the pain subsides over time and motion also improves. However, some people never regain complete motion and stiffness remains after years.

Frozen shoulder surgery and repair

In some cases, your doctor may choose surgical treatment when pain and shoulder motions have not improved after:

  • An extensive course of physical therapy
  • Nonsurgical pain management
  • A regimen of anti-inflammatory medications

Surgical interventions use physical manipulation under anesthesia and shoulder arthroscopy procedures to:

  • Stretch the shoulder joint
  • Release the contraction of the shoulder joint

Benefits and risks of frozen shoulder treatment

Frozen shoulder has been known to get better on its own.

The recovery process is lengthy and can take up to two or three years. Treatments can help manage pain and speed recovery. 

Learn more about frozen shoulder treatment

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