What is a frozen shoulder? - Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Medically Reviewed By : Dr K. Hari Chandana

MBBS, MS ORTHOPAEDICS
( Fellowship in Trauma, Fellowship in Pain Management )

The disease known as frozen shoulder makes the shoulder joint painful and inflexible. It typically develops over time and can be caused by injury, overuse, or certain medical conditions.

As the condition progresses, the shoulder joint may become so stiff that it’s difficult to move, making everyday activities challenging.

Although it can occur to anyone regardless of age or gender, it usually happens to people between the ages of 40 and 60. Moreover, women have a higher chance of having frozen shoulders than men. It can affect one or both shoulders.

frozen shoulder

What are the Causes of Frozen Shoulders?

The exact cause of frozen shoulders is not fully understood, but several factors can increase your risk of developing the condition. Some common frozen shoulder causes include:

1. Injury or trauma to the shoulder:

Injury and trauma to the shoulder can cause inflammation and swelling, leading to scar tissue development. This scar tissue can restrict movement and cause pain, contributing to the development of frozen shoulders.

2. Overuse of the shoulder:

Repetitive motions or activities that involve the shoulder joint can cause wear and tear, leading to frozen shoulders.

3. Certain medical conditions:

People with diabetes, thyroid disorders, or Parkinson’s disease are more likely to develop frozen shoulders.

  1. People with diabetes are more prone to developing frozen shoulders because high blood sugar levels can cause inflammation and damage the shoulder joint and surrounding tissues. It can lead to scar tissue development and restricted shoulder movement, which are common symptoms of frozen shoulders.
  2. People with thyroid disorders are also at increased risk of developing frozen shoulders. Thyroid hormones are essential in maintaining the health of the joints and tissues, including the shoulder joint. Imbalances in thyroid hormone levels can cause inflammation and damage to the shoulder joint and surrounding tissues, contributing to the development of frozen shoulders.
  3. People with Parkinson’s disease are also more likely to develop frozen shoulders. Because Parkinson’s disease can cause stiffness and rigidity in the muscles and joints, including the shoulder joint, stiffness and rigidity can lead to restricted movement in the shoulder, which can contribute to the development of frozen shoulders.
4. Prolonged immobilization:

If you have to keep your shoulder immobilized for an extended period, such as after surgery, you may risk developing a frozen shoulder.

What are the Symptoms of a Frozen Shoulder?

The symptoms of frozen shoulders typically develop slowly over time and can be divided into three stages:

1. Freezing stage

The freezing stage is the first stage of the frozen shoulder, during which the shoulder gradually becomes more painful and stiff over time. 

This stage can last anywhere from a few weeks to several months, and during this time, the shoulder may become so stiff that it becomes difficult or impossible to move the arm. 

2. Frozen stage

The frozen stage is the second stage of frozen shoulders, during which the pain may start to subside but the shoulders remain exceptionally stiff. 

This stage can last several months; during this time, the shoulder may be so stiff that it is difficult or impossible to move the arm. 

3. Thawing stage

Thawing is the final stage of frozen shoulders, during which the shoulder gradually regains its range of motion. 

This stage can last several months to a year or more, and during this time, the shoulder may become less stiff and painful, and the person may begin to regain the ability to move their arm. 

However, it can take some time for the shoulder to fully recover, and some people may experience residual stiffness or a limited range of motion even after the thawing stage has ended.

It’s important to note that the symptoms of frozen shoulders can vary from person to person, and some may experience more severe symptoms than others. 

How to Diagnose

A doctor may diagnose a frozen shoulder by performing a physical examination or reviewing your medical history. In the physical test, the doctor may check your range of motion in the affected shoulder and look for signs of pain or stiffness. 

They could also do imaging tests like MRIs or X-rays to rule out other disorders that might be causing your symptoms.

If the doctor suspects you have frozen shoulders, they may refer you to a specialist, such as an orthopedic surgeon or a physical therapist, for further evaluation and treatment.

What are the Frozen shoulder Treatments?

The treatment for frozen shoulders typically involves a combination of physical therapy, pain management, and, in some cases, surgery. Here are some common treatments:

1. Physical therapy:

Physical therapy can help cure this disease. A physical therapist might help you perform exercises such as stretches, swings of the arms, etc. that strengthen the muscles in your shoulder. Thus, it can help improve your range of motion and reduce pain.

2. Pain management:

Over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen might help reduce inflammation and pain. In some cases, corticosteroid injections may help relieve pain and reduce inflammation.

3. Surgery:

If other treatments are ineffective, surgery may be necessary to help loosen up the joint and improve the range of motion.

Although it’s crucial to note that the treatment for a frozen shoulder can vary depending on the severity of the condition of the shoulder and the underlying cause, if you’re experiencing pain or stiffness in your shoulder, it’s essential to consult with a health expert to determine the underlying cause and take an appropriate treatment plan.

How Can You Manage Frozen Shoulders By Yourself?

When you have shoulder pain, you must be mindful of your movements and activities to avoid aggravating the condition. Some dos and don’ts to keep in mind include:

Dos:
  1. Use good posture to avoid straining your shoulder joint.
  2. Use ice or heat therapy to help relieve pain and inflammation.
  3. Perform gentle range-of-motion exercises to maintain flexibility in the shoulder joint.
  4. Do take over-the-counter pain medications as needed to help manage pain.
Don'ts:
  1. Don’t engage in activities that cause pain or discomfort in your shoulder.
  2. Don’t sleep on your affected shoulder.
  3. Don’t lift heavy objects or exercise strenuously without consulting your doctor.
  4. Don’t ignore your symptoms or delay seeking medical advice if your pain is severe.

Frequently Asked Questions

The first signs of frozen shoulders may be pain, stiffness, and a limited range of motion in the shoulder joint. You may notice that moving your arm or lifting objects is complex and that your shoulder feels tight or achy. 

Yes, frozen shoulders are curable with proper treatment. At the same time, it may take several months or even years to recover from the condition entirely.

You can do several things to help relieve frozen shoulder pain at night. Applying heat or cold to the affected shoulder can help reduce pain and inflammation. 

Sleeping with a pillow under your arm can help keep your shoulder in a comfortable position and may reduce pain. 

Certain painkillers, like acetaminophen, are also effective for pain management at night.