Frozen Shoulder

What is frozen shoulder?

As its name suggests, frozen shoulder is characterized by stiffness, pain, and reduced mobility in your shoulder. Research suggests that this condition begins with an inflammation of the lining of the shoulder joint. As the lining thickens, the shoulder becomes stiffer, and pain gets worse.

Frozen shoulder moves through three stages that can occur over one to two years:

  • Pain stage. The shoulder is very painful during use and at rest. This stage can last between four and nine months, during which the shoulder becomes more and more stiff.
  • Frozen stage. The shoulder remains very stiff and painful when the patient tries to use it, but pain goes away when the shoulder is at rest. This stage can last from four months to a year.
  • Thawing stage. Slowly, the patient regains the ability to move the shoulder over a period of several months.

What causes frozen shoulder?

Frozen shoulder affects 2 to 5 percent of people at some point during their lives. Although we don’t know exactly what causes frozen shoulder, risk factors include:

  • Gender – women are at higher risk
  • Diabetes
  • Thyroid disorders
  • A history of shoulder injuries
  • Periods of shoulder immobilization

What are the symptoms of frozen shoulder?

Common symptoms of frozen shoulder include:

  • Stiffness
  • Dull or aching pain
  • Pain located outside the shoulder joint, and sometimes upper arm
  • Reduced range of motion

How is frozen shoulder diagnosed?

The diagnostic process starts by talking with you about your symptoms, reviewing your medical history, and conducting a detailed physical examination. Comparing the range of motion between the affected shoulder and the normal shoulder usually confirms the condition.

How is frozen shoulder treated nonsurgically?

Treating frozen shoulder requires tremendous patience. Recovery is slow, and relatively few medical shortcuts are available to restore shoulder motion.

  • During the pain stage, anti-inflammatory medication and cortisone shots may be used to control the patient’s discomfort.
  • A physical therapy program of stretching will help to limit the loss of shoulder motion in the early stages of the condition, and restore lost shoulder motion when the shoulder moves into the frozen stage.

Surgery is rarely necessary for frozen shoulder and should only be considered after the majority of shoulder pain has resolved, and if the patient is unable to reclaim range of motion.

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