By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD
The main symptoms of frozen shoulder are pain, stiffness and restricted movement in the shoulder. These symptoms may be mild or they may be severe enough to affect a person’s ability to carry out day-to-day activities such as driving and dressing. Medical terms for frozen shoulder include adhesive capsulitis and shoulder contracture.
Frozen shoulder occurs when the tissue surrounding the shoulder joint becomes inflamed, which restricts movement. Tasks that require a range of movement may become difficult to carry out and sufferers may find it difficult to comb their hair, close doors or reach for objects, for example. Pain and stiffness in the shoulder joint may also interfere with sleep, leading to anxiety and day-time drowsiness.
Stages of frozen shoulder
Symptoms usually begin with mild discomfort on moving the shoulder but become more severe over a year or two. The progression of frozen shoulder can be divided into three main stages, as follows:
Also referred to as the "freezing phase," the shoulder begins to ache and hurt on reaching for an object. The pain often worsens at night or when trying to lie on the affected side. This phase lasts for about two to nine months.
Often referred to as the "frozen phase," the pain does not usually worsen and may even improve, but the shoulder becomes more stiff. The shoulder muscles may become depleted through lack of use. This phase lasts for about 4 months to a year.
This stage is known of as the "thawing phase," when movement of the shoulder is gradually recovered and the pain begins to ease. Movement may not be fully restored but will be significantly improved. This phase lasts for between five months and several years and about four in every five people eventually make a complete recovery.
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc
Last Updated: Jun 3, 2014