Adhesive Capsulitis (Frozen Shoulder) | Loyola Medicine

Adhesive Capsulitis (Frozen Shoulder)

Overview and Facts about Frozen Shoulder

Frozen shoulder, or adhesive capsulitis, is a condition that results in pain and stiffness in your shoulder. Over time, this stiffness can progress to the point that it becomes difficult to move your shoulder.

If you have had an injury that results in difficulty moving your shoulder, talk to your doctor about exercises to improve your range of motion and prevent frozen shoulder.

Why Choose Loyola for Treatment of Shoulder Pain?

Loyola has an Illinois Level I Trauma Center and a team of fellowship-trained orthopaedic specialists experienced in treating bone and tendon injuries, including complex fractures. You will be seen by a doctor who specializes in the care of the elbow and shoulder. Loyola is recognized nationally and internationally for superior patient outcomes.

Symptoms of Frozen Shoulder

Pain in your shoulder (usually the outer shoulder area and upper arm) is the main symptom of frozen shoulder.

This condition develops in three stages and typically resolves itself within two years:

  • Freezing: Pain in your shoulder gradually worsens and you start to lose range of motion.
  • Frozen: Severe stiffness replaces the pain, making daily activities difficult.
  • Thawing: Stiffness begins to lessen and range of motion returns. 

Causes and Risk Factors of Frozen Shoulder

Frozen shoulder is caused when the connective tissue that encases your shoulder joint tightens and thickens, forming scar tissue and restricting your range of motion. The following risk factors are associated with frozen shoulder:

  • Diabetes
  • Age: Affects people between the ages of 40 and 60
  • Gender: Occurs more often in women than men
  • Certain diseases, including diabetes, hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, Parkinson’s disease, cardiovascular disease and tuberculosis
  • Patients who have had a procedure or condition that restricts arm movement, such as arm surgery, stroke, mastectomy or arm fracture/broken arm. 

Tests and Diagnosis of Frozen Shoulder

Your doctor may begin diagnosis with a physical exam and discussion of your medical history. The physical exam may involve moving your shoulder to determine your range of motion (both active and passive) and level of pain. Imaging tests, such as an MRI or X-ray, may also be used to diagnose frozen shoulder. 

Treatment and Care for Frozen Shoulder

Techniques used to treat frozen shoulder are most often non-invasive and non-surgical. With physical therapy and medication to control pain, this condition will get better over time (usually one to three years).

Non-surgical treatment for frozen shoulder includes:

  • Anti-inflammatory medications to reduce swelling
  • Cortisone (steroid) injections in the shoulder joint
  • Physical therapy: Your doctor will instruct you in specific exercises and at-home techniques to help restore range of motion, include stretching and applying heat to the shoulder joint.

If your doctor decides that surgery is the best option for you and if you shoulder is not responding to physical therapy or medication, there are several surgical options available, such as:

  • Manipulation: You will be placed under anesthesia and your doctor will move your shoulder joint around to help release tightening and increase range of motion.
  • Arthroscopy: This is a surgical procedure in which your surgeon will insert small instruments through incisions in your shoulder to remove scar tissue and adhesions within the shoulder joint.

Surgery to relieve frozen shoulder will need to be followed by physical therapy to help improve and reestablish your shoulder’s range of motion.