Frozen Shoulder

| Posted On Sep 13, 2012 | By:

Frozen ShoulderHave you had an annoying pain in your shoulder for weeks or months, but you cannot recall injuring yourself?  Are you unable to enjoy sports like tennis or golf because the pain and stiffness in your shoulder is getting worse? Is the pain beginning to keep you awake at night?  If any of this sounds familiar, you may have frozen shoulder.

What is a frozen shoulder?

The shoulder joint is a ball and socket joint surrounded by a capsule of tissue.  Frozen shoulder, also known as adhesive capsulitis, is a common condition in which the sac of ligaments surrounding the joint, also known as the articular shoulder capsule, swells and stiffens, restricting mobility.

Risk factors for frozen shoulder

Most of the time there is no cause for frozen shoulder; however, people who sustain a shoulder injury or undergo surgery on the shoulder can develop a frozen shoulder.

Frozen shoulder most commonly affects people between the ages of 40 to 60 years old, and it is twice as common in women as it is in men.  An increased likelihood of developing frozen shoulder is linked to the following chronic medical conditions:

What are the symptoms and stages of frozen shoulder?

Frozen shoulder typically develops slowly and has three stages. Each of these stages can last a number of months.

How is a frozen shoulder diagnosed?

It is very important to see your doctor or therapist for a proper diagnosis and to rule out any other possibilities, such as a rotator cuff tear.  Your doctor may have you perform certain movements to determine pain and range of motion.  If necessary, diagnosis can also be confirmed by arthrography, which is a procedure where an x-ray contrast dye is injected into the shoulder joint.  The tissues of the shoulder can also be evaluated with an MRI scan.

What is the treatment for a frozen shoulder?

There are various treatments for frozen shoulder, and early and accurate diagnosis is imperative.  In patients with frozen shoulder, the goal of treatment is pain reduction and the preservation of shoulder mobility.  Over 90% of patients improve with non-surgical treatments, including the following:

What is the prognosis of a frozen shoulder?

The prognosis for a frozen shoulder depends on its response to physical therapy, exercises, and treatments as described above. The vast majority of patients who develop a frozen shoulder will recover their functional motion with therapy and stretching alone.  The return to normal motion and strength usually takes from 6 months to 2 years.

Will I need surgery for frozen shoulder?

Sometimes a frozen shoulder is resistant to physical therapy, and you and your doctor may need to discuss whether surgery can help your condition.  The goal of surgery for frozen shoulder is to stretch and release the stiffened joint capsule.  There are two main types of surgery that can be performed:

If you are experiencing pain that is localized to the shoulder and is affecting your range of motion, it may be frozen shoulder, and it is important to make an appointment with your primary care physician as soon as possible for proper diagnosis.

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About Hsien-Pin Chiu, PT, MS, OCS

Hsien-Pin (Kevin) Chiu has been working at Harvard Vanguard since 2008 and provides physical therapy services to our patients at our Post Office Square and Burlington locations. He received his degree from Massachusetts General Hospital Institute of Health Professions in Boston, MA.


  1. I am a 44 year old diabetic. I have suffered nonstop for three plus years from this condition. I have have two surgeries on the right arm, and one on the left. I have been in physical therapy for 3+ years. My right arm moves with some restriction, but the left will not give in and begin to thaw. The pain is constant and at times unbearable. If there were ever an area of medicine that needs further studying – I vote frozen shoulders. I have done it all- P.T.,cortisone, accupressure, accupuncture, naturalists, massage, surgery…..etc. It greatly affects my ability to do my job as an elementary teacher. I would do anything for this to end!

    Comment by Martha Reynolds on September 13, 2012 at 8:26 pm
  2. great post thanks for sharing

    Comment by Helen on September 21, 2016 at 3:52 am

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