Frozen Shoulder: Symptoms, Causes and Treatments

As a complex joint, the shoulder is susceptible to a variety of ailments- some that may be treated with rest and physical therapy, and some that may require surgical treatment.

If you’re 40 years of age or older and experiencing persistent stiffness and pain in your shoulder joint, you may be suffering from a condition called adhesive capsulitis, more commonly known as “frozen shoulder”.

At Rebound, all of our shoulder surgeons are board certified or board eligible with advanced sub-specialized fellowship training, making them experts in their field. Learn more about the frozen shoulder symptoms, causes and treatments from Gregory D. Gramstad, M.D., a Rebound orthopedic surgeon with fellowship training in shoulder and elbow surgery. He offers minimally invasive treatments for many conditions affecting the shoulder and elbow, including frozen shoulder.

What is Frozen Shoulder?

Frozen shoulder is an incredibly common condition involving swelling and stiffness in the articular shoulder capsule. More than three million people in the U.S. are diagnosed each year, and 70 percent are women.

“The condition typically affects one shoulder, causing pain and restricting your ability to move your shoulder in a natural, easy way,” says Dr. Gramstad.

The shoulder is referred to as a ball-and-socket joint, and is comprised of three bones called the humerus, scapula and clavicle. When a person is suffering from frozen shoulder, the shoulder capsule (strong connective tissues surround the joint) thickens, causing stiff bands of tissues to develop.

What Causes Frozen Shoulder?

“Often, the causes of frozen shoulder are difficult to identify,” says Dr. Gramstad. “While the causes are typically unidentifiable in many patients’ circumstances, there are risk factors associated.”

  • Age – frozen shoulder is most common in people 40 years+
  • Diabetes
  • Immobilization because of a recent surgery or fracture
  • Hypothroidism, hyperthyroidism, Parkinson’s disease or cardiac disease

What are Common Symptoms?

“There are three stages of frozen shoulder,” says Dr. Gramstad. “We refer to them as the freezing stage, frozen stage and thawing stage. The most common indicator of frozen shoulder is being unable to move your shoulder and aching pain.”

  • Freezing Stage (six weeks to nine months) – “You’ll notice a progression in pain and decreased range of motion.”
  • Frozen Stage (four to six months) – “You may experience a decrease in pain, but everyday activities will be difficult due to the degree of stiffness.”
  • Thawing Stage (six months to two years) – “Your shoulder will essentially “thaw” during this stage. You’ll regain some motion in the beginning of the thawing stage, with the potential to return to normal motion in anywhere from six months to two years depending on the severity and treatment administered.”

How is Frozen Shoulder Treated?

With time, symptoms of frozen shoulder typically improve. Some patients may experience symptoms for up to three years if the condition is not addressed in a timely fashion. Most often frozen shoulder can be treated without surgery.

“Our goal is to get the patient back to a state in which they can return to everyday activities without pain or decreased mobility. During the majority of treatment instances, our shoulder team and physical therapy team will work with the patient to restore their joint and muscle strength and motion through a series of conditioning exercises,” says Dr. Gramstad.

Nonsurgical treatment may also include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines, steroid injections and rest from activities that put strain on the shoulder. When nonsurgical treatment method do not relieve symptoms, surgical treatment such as shoulder arthroscopy or shoulder manipulation under anesthesia may be recommended.

If you’re experiencing symptoms of frozen shoulder, do not hesitate to contact us at 1-800-REBOUND or request an appointment online.

Rebound Shoulder Resources

Shoulder Surgery Team and Services

Shoulder Instability Causes and Treatments

Tendinitis, Impingement and Bursitis: Common Causes of Shoulder Pain

Trusted Frozen Shoulder Resources

American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) – Frozen Shoulder

U.S. National Institute of Health – National Library of Medicine – Frozen Shoulder