What is a Frozen Shoulder?

A frozen shoulder is a common shoulder condition that causes the shoulder to stiffen, making it very hard to move. Also known as adhesive capsulitis, frozen shoulder affects about 2 percent of the general population. It commonly affects people between the ages 40 and 60 and occurs more in women than in men.


The exact cause of a frozen shoulder is not fully understood but it is thought to occur as a result of scar tissue that forms on the shoulder. This causes tightening and thickening of the shoulder joint’s capsule, leading to limitation in movement.

There are some factors that can put one at greater risk of having frozen shoulder. These include conditions like diabetes, cardiac disease, Parkinson’s disease, and thyroid problems (hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism). Patients whose shoulder have been immobilized for a period of time are also at risk of developing frozen shoulder.

Symptoms of a Frozen Shoulder

Pain and stiffness are the common symptoms of frozen shoulder. The pain is usually dull or aching and usually felt in the shoulder muscles that wrap around the top of the arm. This can get worse with movement and at night, making it difficult to fall asleep.

Diagnosing a Frozen Shoulder

A thorough physical exam is needed to diagnose a frozen shoulder. During the physical exam, the doctor will move the shoulder carefully in all directions (passive range of motion). This is to see any limitation in movement and if there is pain with movement. The patient will be asked to move his/her shoulder on his/her own (active range of motion) to also determine the range of motion. Patients with a frozen shoulder will have limited range of motion both actively and passively.

Other tests may be ordered to rule out other possible causes of pain and stiffness. Some of these tests include X-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan, and ultrasound.

How It Is Treated

Majority of the cases of a frozen shoulder get resolved over time. Simple management techniques such as the use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), steroid injections, and physical therapy are often enough to control the pain and restore motion.

Surgery is only recommended when there is no relief from medications and physical therapy. The purpose of the surgery is to release the stiffened shoulder joint capsule.

Some of the surgical options for a frozen shoulder include manipulation under anesthesia and arthroscopy.