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Frozen Shoulder Causes, Symptoms & Treatment Options

A frozen shoulder, also called adhesive capsulitis is a condition where the shoulder becomes painful and stiff

Frozen Shoulder Hero Image 2

A frozen shoulder, also called adhesive capsulitis is a condition where the shoulder becomes painful and stiff. It usually progresses through 3 stages:

1. Freezing
This is the initial and most painful stage. This usually results in a slow loss of motion. This stage usually lasts 2-6 months.
2. Frozen
In this second stage the pain lessens but the loss of motion persists. This stage can last from 3-6 months.
3. Thawing
In this last phase motion slowly improves. This stage can last from 3- 12 months.





What causes Frozen Shoulder?

The cause is not completely understood. It develops slowly over time. Often this occurs after some injury to the shoulder. Sometimes it can develop without any clear-cut injury. Anything that results in pain with movement of the shoulder can lead to a frozen shoulder. It does occur more often in people with diabetes or other chronic conditions.



Frozen Shoulder


Usually the pain is an achy pain that starts slowly and can become extremely severe, often times especially at night. Usually as the condition progresses, the pain lessens.

When to see a doctor

If the pain is not controlled with rest, modalities and NSAIDs, it may be time to see your physician.

He/She will do an examination of the shoulder. If your physician cannot move your shoulder, you most likely have a frozen shoulder.

Often X-Rays, and MRI scans may be performed to make sure there is not some other cause of your symptoms but in the case of a frozen shoulder, these tests are often normal.

Non-operative treatment

Most people who develop a frozen shoulder will not require surgery. While it may take a long time for the symptoms to resolve, usually with time and conservative treatments designed to decrease pain and restore range of motion, the frozen shoulder will resolve. There are two types of pain that people experience when dealing with a frozen shoulder. Stretching pain, as long as it gentle and short-duration, can be beneficial. Consistent stretching can help to regain motion. Resistance pain, such as with lifting, is generally to be avoided, as it may delay recovery.

These treatments are:

  • NSAIA to decrease pain and inflammation
  • Cortisone injections
  • Home exercises emphasizing stretching
  • Physical therapy

If you have symptoms of a frozen shoulder here are some exercises to try

Frozen Shoulder

Surgical Treatment

In rare cases, non-surgical treatments are not enough to restore range of motion. In these situations, your physician may recommend an operation. This is called a manipulation under anesthesia and lysis of adhesions. In this procedure, the surgeon manipulates the shoulder while you are asleep and breaks up the scar tissue and then using the arthroscope to remove any remaining scar tissue. This is followed by a period of physical therapy to maintain the motion.


Recovery from a frozen shoulder often takes a long time. Sometimes longer than a year. While the recovery can be frustrating, almost always everyone regains full motion and becomes pain-free.