Frozen shoulder is a condition that causes pain in the shoulder, restricting movement and eventually causing the joint to stiffen up. In severe cases, movement of the shoulder may be completely restricted. Frozen shoulder is also called adhesive capsulitis or shoulder contracture.
The most common symptoms of frozen shoulder are pain and stiffness in the shoulder. Symptoms may be mild and make little difference to a person’s quality of life or they may become severe, with movement eventually becoming so restricted that everyday tasks such as dressing or driving become difficult or even impossible to carry out.
Causes of frozen shoulder
Frozen shoulder occurs when the tissue surrounding the shoulder joint becomes inflamed, which restricts movement. There are several factors that can raise the risk of developing frozen shoulder and examples include previous shoulder surgery or injury, diabetes, heart disease, stroke and the presence of Dupuytren’s contracture (a tissue disorder in the hands and fingers).
Diagnosis and treatment of frozen shoulder
A diagnosis of frozen shoulder is usually based on a physical examination to assess the shoulder’s range of movement. Sometimes, imaging studies such as X-ray or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) are also required. Frozen shoulder usually takes about 18 to 24 months to get better but treatments can help to ease pain and relieve symptoms in the meantime.
Treatment is aimed at reducing the inflammation and improving the range of motion in the shoulder as much as possible. Some examples of treatments that may be prescribed include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), corticosteroid injections, and physiotherapy. Surgery may be considered in cases where symptoms have not improved after six months.
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc