Frozen shoulder occurs when the capsule of tissue that surrounds bones, ligaments, and tendons in the shoulder thickens around the shoulder joint, restricting movement. Researchers are unsure why this happens, but it is common in people whose arms have been immobilized for a period of time, such as after surgery or a stroke. It is also more likely to affect people over 40, particularly women.
Frozen shoulder generally begins slowly and worsens over time. As it progresses, the condition gets more painful and impacts daily activities, lifting, and sleep. In most people, symptoms occur in three stages. Stage one is the freezing stage, which is mild pain and limited mobility. Stage two is the frozen stage where pain diminishes but the shoulder becomes stiffer. Range of motion eventually improves in stage three, the thawing stage.
In order to diagnose frozen shoulder, physicians will ask about symptoms and conduct a physical exam. Some factors they will look for include pain and range of motion. Frozen shoulder is usually diagnosed without further testing. However, imaging tests may be ordered to rule out other injuries or conditions.
Frozen shoulder eventually gets better over time, without treatment. However, the process is lengthy and can take up to three years for some people. In addition to physical therapy, over the counter and prescription pain relievers may be recommended to optimize recovery. Patients may also benefit from corticosteroid injections. Surgery for frozen shoulder is rare, but it may be recommended if pain persists.