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Frozen Shoulder

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What Is Frozen Shoulder?

Tissue covers and connects the bones, ligaments, and tendons of your shoulder joint.

When this tissue thickens or scar tissue forms, it squeezes the joint and makes it harder to move your shoulder.

Frozen shoulder causes

Doctors have yet to pinpoint the exact causes of frozen shoulder. They do know the process involves thickening and contracture of the capsule surrounding the shoulder joint.

Frozen shoulder risk factors and complications

Some health problems or injuries can increase your risk of frozen shoulder.

Treatment that requires you to restrain arm motion can increase your frozen shoulder risk.

These might include treatments for:

  • Broken bones
  • Torn rotator cuffs
  • Stroke
  • Surgery

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

  • Diabetes
  • Thyroid disease
  • Heart or vascular disease
  • Parkinson's disease

Most cases of frozen shoulder clear up over time.

But, some people may have complications from frozen shoulder. Motion may not return fully and they might still have a small amount of stiffness, even after years.

At UPMC Sports Medicine, we offer frozen shoulder treatments to relieve your symptoms and get you back in action. 

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Frozen Shoulder Symptoms and Diagnosis

Frozen shoulder symptoms

Frozen shoulder causes stiffness and restricts your shoulder's normal motion.

People with frozen shoulder often feel a dull or aching pain — most often over the outer shoulder area and sometimes the upper arm — that gets worse when you try to move.

Stages of frozen shoulder

Frozen shoulder symptoms tend to occur in three stages, which can happen slowly over a few months:

  1. Freezing. Your shoulder will hurt with any movement. You might not be able to move your shoulder within a normal range of motion.
  2. Frozen. Your shoulder is stiff and tough to move, but the pain tends to lessen on its own.
  3. Thawing. The shoulder stiffness begins to fade and your normal range of motion returns.

Frozen shoulder diagnosis

If your doctor suspects that frozen shoulder is the cause of your stiffness, he or she will order imaging tests — such as an x-ray or MRI.

These tests will help confirm a frozen shoulder diagnosis and make sure you don't have arthritis or a broken bone. 

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Frozen Shoulder Treatment

For most people, a frozen shoulder will loosen up on its own but this can take months to even a year.

Because it may take a long time for your frozen shoulder symptoms to resolve, treatment may be very helpful to speed the process along.

At UPMC Sports Medicine, our goals of frozen shoulder treatment are to control pain and restore motion in your shoulder.

Nonsurgical frozen shoulder treatments

You may be able to control frozen shoulder pain with anti-inflammatory drugs, such as:

  • Pills you take by mouth, such as ibuprofen.
  • Shots, such as corticosteroids.

Physical therapy can help loosen the shoulder joint and restore motion.

More than 90 percent of patients improve with these two simple nonsurgical treatments.

Surgical frozen shoulder treatments

If your shoulder pain and motion don't improve after the prescribed course of anti-inflammatory drugs and physical therapy, your doctor may suggest frozen shoulder surgery.

Surgery aims to stretch or release the contracted joint capsule of the shoulder.

The most common surgical frozen shoulder treatments include manipulation under anesthesia and shoulder arthroscopy. 

Learn more about frozen shoulder treatment

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