Frozen Shoulder

peer review

This content has been reviewed and approved by Kathy Doubleday DPT, OCS.

A frozen shoulder, or adhesive capsulitis, is a thickening and constriction of connective tissue surrounding the shoulder. It restricts movement and causes stiffness and pain in the shoulder joint.

The cause is not fully understood but could have a hormonal or autoimmune component. It is more likely to occur after an extended immobilization of the shoulder after surgery or injury. It is also more likely in diabetic patients.

Symptoms have been described in three phases:

  • Freezing: a dull pain around the outer shoulder. As the pain increases, the shoulder loses mobility. This phase can last from six weeks to nine months.
  • Frozen: pain subsides but stiffness does not improve. The shoulder feels “locked” or “frozen.” This phase can last between four and nine months.
  • Thawing: shoulder mobility returns to nearly normal range. The thawing stage usually lasts between five and twenty-six months before the cycle reoccurs.
  • May get better on its own.
  • An over the counter anti-inflammatory such as ibuprofen can help relieve swelling.
  • Local joint mobilization of the shoulder is essential to improving range of motion and reducing pain.
  • Surgery is rarely indicated, but may be coupled with physical therapy if there is no relief from symptoms.

Printable Frozen Shoulder Exercises PDF

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