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Frozen Shoulder

Frozen shoulder syndrome is a common health issue. If you have frozen shoulder syndrome, you may experience stiffness, pain, and loss of range of motion. This happens when tissues around the shoulder joint thicken and squeeze the joint.

If left untreated, frozen shoulder syndrome may become worse over time.

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What Is Frozen Shoulder?

Doctors define frozen shoulder as a common condition that occurs when the muscles surrounding the shoulder joint become inflamed. The inflamed tissues squeeze the joint, causing limited shoulder movement and potential pain.

Frozen shoulder syndrome is also known as adhesive capsulitis.

How common is frozen shoulder?

Frozen shoulder affects 2% of the general population.

What are the stages of frozen shoulder?

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 slowly returns to normal. This stage can take anywhere from five to 26 months.

What causes frozen shoulder?

The cause of frozen shoulder isn't clear. It's more likely to happen if you need to keep your arm still for an extended period, like during recovery from surgery or a broken bone.

What are frozen shoulder risk factors and complications?

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.

Frozen shoulder risk factors

Some health issues or injuries can increase your risk of developing frozen shoulder. If you have to keep your arm still for a long time during treatment, it can increase your risk of frozen shoulder.

This might include treatment for:

Also at a higher risk for frozen shoulder are people who have chronic health issues, such as:

Most cases of frozen shoulder clear up over time.

Complications of frozen shoulder

If left untreated, severe cases of frozen shoulder may cause:

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

Complete immobilization is also a common complication of frozen shoulder.

How can I prevent frozen shoulder?

You can lower your chances of getting frozen shoulder with physical therapy. If you hurt your shoulder and have pain, talk to your doctor so you can begin treatment as soon as possible.

Your doctor or physical therapist can develop an exercise plan to help you recover from your injury.

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What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Frozen Shoulder?

Frozen shoulder occurs in three stages — freezing, frozen, and thawing — and symptoms often increase and change over time.

If you have frozen shoulder, you might feel a dull, aching pain in the outer shoulder or upper arm. Pain and stiffness may feel worse when you attempt to move the joint.

The most common symptoms of frozen shoulder include:

  • Dull or aching pain in the outer shoulder or upper arm.
  • Difficulty moving your shoulder.
  • Stiff muscles.
  • Restricted motion.
  • Inability to move the joint.

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How Do You Diagnose Frozen Shoulder?

If your doctor suspects that you have frozen shoulder, they'll run tests to confirm their diagnosis. This will also help your doctor rule out other possible diagnoses, like arthritis or a broken bone.

Tests to diagnose frozen shoulder

Your doctor will order imaging tests to diagnose frozen shoulder, such as:

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How Do You Treat Frozen Shoulder?

Frozen shoulder often gets better on its own over time and with nonsurgical treatments.

Nonsurgical treatments for frozen shoulder

Your doctor might suggest nonsurgical treatments to:

  • Make you feel more comfortable by managing pain or stiffness.
  • Bring back or keep your ability to move your arm.

Nonsurgical treatments may include:

  • Medicine to reduce pain and inflammation.
  • Shots, like corticosteroids, to help with pain.
  • Doing exercises with a physical therapist to improve movement.

For most people, the pain goes away, and they can move their arm better with this type of treatment. But some may not get back all the movement, and stiffness might last for a long time.

Most people — more than nine out of 10 — feel better with these types of treatments and don't need surgery.

Surgery for frozen shoulder

If you have severe frozen shoulder symptoms or nonsurgical treatment doesn't help, your doctor might talk to you about frozen shoulder surgery. The goal of surgery is to stretch or loosen the tight joint capsule in the shoulder.

The two common types of surgery for frozen shoulder are:

  • Manipulation under anesthesia.
  • Shoulder arthroscopy.

How long does it take to recover from frozen shoulder?

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

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