Frozen shoulder is the common term for adhesive capsulitis, an inflammatory condition
that restricts motion in the shoulder.
Causes of Adhesive capsulitis
The capsule of a shoulder joint includes the ligaments that
attach the shoulder bones to each other. When inflammation occurs within the capsule,
there is less ability for the shoulder bones to freely move within the joint.
Diabetes, shoulder trauma (including surgery), a history of open heart surgery,
hyperthyroidism, and a history of cervical disk disease are all associated with an
increased risk for this problem.
Symptoms of Adhesive
Pain and stiffness are the two hallmark symptoms of this
In idiopathic frozen shoulder (i.e., frozen shoulder without an identifiable cause),
pain is usually the first symptom, which makes the patient reluctant to move the arm. This
lack of movement leads to an involuntary stiffness, which is the second phase of the
disease. The third phase, thawing, is a gradual return of motion and function.
Diagnosis of Adhesive
The diagnosis is made primarily by physical exam and the
patient's medical history. There is usually a history of shoulder pain followed by severe
stiffness that may not be very painful. If the patient has any history of the risk factors
associated with frozen shoulder, these may require treatment as well.
Imaging studies such as X-rays are routine to make sure there is no other problem, such
as arthritis. MRI exams may show diffuse inflammation, but there are no findings specific
to frozen shoulder.
Treatment of Adhesive
The mainstay of treatment is with non-steroidal
anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) and physical therapy. While this condition nearly
always improves with this intervention, it can take as long as 12 to 18 months to see
improvement. The physical therapy is intense and needs to be performed by the patient on a
daily basis at home to be successful.
If therapy is not successful, or if a patient is unable to tolerate therapy, a shoulder
manipulation may be performed. Under anesthesia, the shoulder may be forcibly brought
through a range of motion to release the scar tissue. Surgery to remove all the sticky
scar tissue in the joint is usually done arthroscopically. Some surgeons may use repeated
pain blocks after surgery to allow the patient to painlessly participate in physical
therapy after surgery.
Expectations (prognosis) of Adhesive capsulitis
With therapy and NSAIDs, the problem will usually resolve within
a year. When required, surgery is usually successful in restoring motion, but therapy must
be continued for several weeks to months after surgery to prevent recurrence. The most
common reason for any treatment to fail is non-compliance with therapy.
Complications of Adhesive capsulitis
Complications include persistent stiffness and pain despite
therapy. If there is forceful manipulation of the shoulder during surgery, the arm can
Calling your health care provider
If you have shoulder pain and stiffness and suspect you may have
a frozen shoulder, contact your health care provider for proper referral and treatment.
Prevention of Adhesive capsulitis
The best way to prevent frozen shoulder is to contact your
health care provider if you develop shoulder pain that limits your range of motion for an
extended period of time. This will allow early treatment and help avoid stiffness, if
Diabetic patients should keep tight control of their blood glucose levels; despite
this, they may still develop shoulder stiffness