Frozen Shoulder

Frozen Shoulder

Frozen Shoulder: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, and Prevention

What is a Frozen Shoulder?

A frozen shoulder, medically known as adhesive capsulitis, is a condition that causes stiffness and pain in the shoulder joint. It typically develops gradually and progresses through stages, limiting the range of motion in the affected shoulder. This condition can make even simple tasks, such as reaching for objects or combing your hair, painful and challenging.

Type of Frozen Shoulder

  • Primary Frozen Shoulder: This type develops without a known cause or underlying medical condition. It is the more common type of frozen shoulder.
  • Secondary Frozen Shoulder: A secondary frozen shoulder is associated with a specific cause, such as a prior injury, surgery, or an underlying medical condition like diabetes.

How Common is Frozen Shoulder?

Frozen shoulder is a relatively common condition, primarily affecting adults between the ages of 40 and 60. While the exact prevalence can vary, it’s estimated that up to 5% of the general population may experience frozen shoulder at some point in their lives. It occurs more frequently in women than in men.

Causes of Frozen Shoulder

The exact cause of frozen shoulder is not always clear, but several factors may contribute to its development, including:
  • Inflammation: Inflammation in the shoulder joint can lead to the development of scar tissue, which limits the joint’s range of motion.
  • Unknown Factors: In many cases, a frozen shoulder occurs without a specific known cause, and the factors triggering it remain unclear.
  • Secondary Causes: Some individuals may develop a frozen shoulder as a secondary condition following an injury, surgery, or an underlying medical condition like diabetes.
  • Immobilisation: Prolonged shoulder immobilisation due to injury, surgery, or other reasons can increase the risk of developing a frozen shoulder.

Symptoms of Frozen Shoulder

If you have a frozen shoulder, you may experience the following symptoms:
  • Shoulder Stiffness: The most noticeable symptom is a gradual onset of shoulder stiffness, which can worsen over time.
  • Pain: You may experience pain in the shoulder joint, particularly when attempting to move it or during rest.
  • Limited Range of Motion: The ability to move your shoulder, especially lifting it or rotating it, becomes progressively limited.
  • Difficulty with Activities: Simple tasks like reaching for objects, getting dressed, or combing your hair may become challenging and painful.
  • Night Pain: Some individuals experience more significant pain during the night, which can disrupt sleep

Stages of a Frozen Shoulder

Frozen shoulder typically progresses through three stages, each marked by distinct symptoms and characteristics:
  • Freezing Stage: During this initial stage, you may gradually experience pain and shoulder stiffness. As the name suggests, your shoulder’s range of motion becomes limited, and it may be increasingly painful to move your arm.
  • Frozen Stage: In this stage, the pain may decrease, but the stiffness in your shoulder becomes more severe. The range of motion is significantly limited, making it challenging to perform everyday activities.
  • Thawing Stage: In the final stage, your shoulder’s range of motion gradually improves. While this can be a slow process, your pain and stiffness typically subside, allowing you to regain more normal shoulder function.

Diagnosis of Frozen Shoulder

Diagnosing a frozen shoulder typically involves the following steps:

Medical History

Your orthopaedic specialist will ask about your symptoms, such as the gradual onset of shoulder stiffness and pain.

Physical Examination

The doctor will examine your shoulder, checking for limited range of motion, pain, and signs of inflammation.


Sometimes, X-rays or other imaging tests may be ordered to rule out other conditions or assess the shoulder’s internal structure.

Medical Tests

Blood tests may be conducted to check for underlying medical conditions, such as diabetes, which can contribute to a frozen shoulder.

Complications of Frozen Shoulder

Frozen shoulder is generally a manageable condition, but if left untreated, it can lead to certain complications, including:
  • Chronic Pain: Persistent pain in the shoulder can significantly affect daily activities and reduce your quality of life.
  • Loss of Function: Long-term lack of mobility in the shoulder can lead to a significant loss of function, making it difficult to perform even basic tasks.
  • Depression and Anxiety: Chronic pain and limited mobility can contribute to emotional and psychological distress.

Treatment Options for Frozen Shoulder

Managing a frozen shoulder may involve various treatment approaches, including:

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy exercises can help improve shoulder mobility and flexibility.

Pain Relief

Over-the-counter pain relievers or prescription medications can alleviate pain and inflammation.

Heat and Ice

Applying heat or cold packs to the shoulder can reduce pain and stiffness.

Corticosteroid Injections

Injections of corticosteroids can help reduce inflammation and pain in the shoulder.

Home Exercises

Your orthopaedic specialist may recommend specific exercises you can perform at home to improve mobility.

Manipulation Under Anaesthesia

Sometimes, an orthopaedic specialist may perform a procedure to manipulate the shoulder under anaesthesia to break up scar tissue.


Surgery may be considered for severe cases when other treatments are ineffective. Surgical options include releasing the joint capsule or other procedures to improve shoulder mobility.

Preventing Frozen Shoulder

While it may not always be possible to prevent a frozen shoulder, there are measures you can take to lower the risk:
  • Perform regular shoulder exercises to maintain flexibility and strength in the shoulder joint.
  • When starting new activities or exercises, progress slowly to avoid overuse or strain on the shoulder.
  • Maintain good posture to minimise stress on the shoulders.
  • Use proper techniques and ergonomics during shoulder movement activities.
  • Seek medical attention if you experience shoulder pain or stiffness. Early intervention can prevent the condition from progressing to a frozen shoulder.

Living with a Frozen Shoulder

Living with a frozen shoulder involves several strategies to manage the condition and maintain shoulder comfort and functionality:
  • Follow the treatment plan and advice provided by your orthopaedic specialist, which may include physical therapy, pain management, or other therapies.
  • Take prescribed medications as directed to manage pain and inflammation.
  • Practice the exercises recommended by your orthopaedic specialist to improve mobility and flexibility.
  • Be mindful of activities that worsen your symptoms and consider modifications to reduce strain on the shoulder.
  • Schedule appointments with your orthopaedic specialist to monitor your progress and make any necessary adjustments to your treatment plan.
  • Recovery from a frozen shoulder can be a slow process, and it’s essential to remain patient and persistent in your efforts to improve shoulder function.
A frozen shoulder, also known as adhesive capsulitis, is a common condition that can cause significant discomfort and limitations in shoulder mobility. While it can be challenging, it’s important not to ignore your health if you suspect you have a frozen shoulder. Seek professional advice and early medical intervention.
For expert care and consultation regarding frozen shoulder, we encourage you to request an appointment with The Orthopaedic Practice and Surgery Clinic. Our specialised team can provide personalised treatment and guidance to help you alleviate symptoms and improve your shoulder’s range of motion. Don’t delay—take the first step toward a more comfortable and functional shoulder by requesting your appointment today.

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