frozen shoulder

Normal shoulder and frozen shoulder

Frozen shoulder, or adhesive capsulitis, is stiffness and pain in the shoulder, making normal movement of the joint impossible. In severe cases, the shoulder may be completely rigid and pain may be intense.


Frozen shoulder is caused by inflammation and thickening of the lining of the capsule in which the joint is contained. The problem usually develops for no known reason, but in some cases it follows a minor injury or surgery to the shoulder, a stroke, chronic bronchitis, hyperthyroidism, or angina.


The condition mainly affects middle-aged people, and there is a higher-than-average incidence among people with diabetes mellitus.


Treatment of frozen shoulder

Moderate symptoms of frozen shoulder can be eased by exercise and by taking analgesics (painkillers) and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and by applying ice-packs to the shoulder or using a heat lamp. In severe cases, injections of corticosteroid drugs into the joint may be required to relieve pain. Manipulation of the joint under a general anesthetic can also restore mobility, but carries the risk of actually increasing pain in the joint. Arthroscopic surgery can be used to cut tight ligaments and remove the scar tissue from the shoulder. Some surgeons may use repeated pain blocks after surgery so that the patient can participate in physical therapy.


Whatever the severity and treatment, recovery is usually slow. Treatment with therapy and NSAIDs will usually return the motion and function of the shoulder within a year. Even if left untreated, the frozen shoulder can get better by itself in 18–24 months.