Symptoms of a frozen shoulder

Medically Reviewed By : Dr K. Hari Chandana

( Fellowship in Trauma, Fellowship in Pain Management )

Are you experiencing pain and stiffness in your shoulder that seems to have come out of nowhere? Does it feel like you can’t move your arm as you normally would?

You could have a frozen shoulder!

In this blog, we’ll explore the symptoms of a frozen shoulder and what you can do if you think you might have it.


symptoms of a frozen shoulder

What is a Frozen Shoulder?

Frozen shoulder, also known as adhesive capsulitis, is a condition that occurs when the tissues around the shoulder joint become stiff. It can result in pain and limited shoulder movement.

What are the Stages of Frozen Shoulders?

There are three stages of a frozen shoulder:

1. Freezing stage

It is the initial phase where the shoulder feels stiff and painful. It can last from 6 weeks to 9 months.

2. Frozen stage

During this stage, the shoulder becomes stiffer, and movement is severely limited. The frozen stage can last up to six months.

3. Thawing stage

In this final stage, shoulder movement begins to improve gradually. This process can take up to two years.

What are the Symptoms of Frozen Shoulder?

If you’re experiencing a frozen shoulder, you may observe the following symptoms:

1. Gradual Onset of Pain

One of the first symptoms of this condition is the gradual onset of pain in the shoulder joint. The pain may start as a mild ache and gradually increase in intensity. It is commonly felt in the outer shoulder area and can reach down the arm.

2. Stiffness

As the condition progresses, stiffness in the shoulder joint becomes more noticeable. Individuals with frozen shoulders may struggle to lift their arms or reach behind their backs. A dull, constant ache in the shoulder usually accompanies the stiffness.

3. Limited Range of Motion

One of the most significant symptoms of a frozen shoulder is the limited range of motion in the shoulder joint. Movements such as raising the arm overhead, reaching behind the back, or rotating the shoulder outward become extremely challenging and painful.

The range of motion gradually decreases over time, causing significant functional limitations.

4. Difficulty Sleeping

A frozen shoulder can make it challenging to find a comfortable position while sleeping. The pain and stiffness can disrupt sleep and lead to restless nights. Some individuals may find it impossible to sleep on the affected side due to discomfort.

5. Muscle Weakness

As the shoulder joint becomes more restricted, the muscles surrounding the joint can weaken due to lack of use. It can further exacerbate the pain and limit the range of motion.

6. Painful Nighttime Flare-ups

Many individuals with frozen shoulders experience severe pain and discomfort during the night. The pain can be intense and may disrupt sleep, making it difficult to find a comfortable position.

7. Decreased Function and Difficulty Performing Daily Activities

The limited range of motion and pain associated with a frozen shoulder can significantly impact an individual’s ability to perform daily activities. Simple tasks such as reaching for objects, getting dressed, or combing the hair can become challenging and painful.

8. Shoulder Joint Stiffness in All Directions

The frozen shoulder typically affects the shoulder joint in all directions. The stiffness is not limited to a particular motion or direction. It distinguishes frozen shoulder from other shoulder conditions that may have more specific limitations in range of motion.

9. Pain with Pressure on the Shoulder

Applying pressure to the affected shoulder can cause increased pain and discomfort in individuals with frozen shoulders. You may feel it while resting your arm on a table or wearing tight clothing that puts pressure on the shoulder joint.

Thus, frozen shoulders are a painful condition that can significantly impact an individual’s quality of life. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned above, it is essential to seek medical attention for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment. 

Early intervention can help prevent further progression of the condition and improve the chances of recovery.

What are the Causes of Frozen Shoulders?

While the exact cause of a frozen shoulder is often unknown, certain factors may increase the likelihood of developing the condition.

1. Age

Frozen shoulder is more common in people over 40, primarily in people in their 50s.

2. Gender

Although anyone can develop a frozen shoulder, women make up more cases than men.

3. Other health problems

Certain health conditions, such as diabetes or a stroke, may increase the likelihood of developing a frozen shoulder.

4. Shoulder injury or surgery

After an injury or surgery, scar tissue may form around the shoulder joint, leading to stiffening.

5. Prolonged immobilization

Spending extended periods without moving your shoulder may result in a frozen shoulder.

Diagnosis and Treatment

If your doctor suspects that you have a frozen shoulder, they’ll likely begin by physically examining your shoulder. This examination helps identify how limited your range of motion is and how severe your pain is.

Sometimes, your doctor may recommend imaging tests, such as X-rays or an MRI, to help diagnose the condition.

The treatment for a frozen shoulder often involves physical therapy, which might include exercises to help stretch and strengthen the shoulder joint. Painkiller medications may also be helpful in this condition.

How do you manage a frozen shoulder by yourself?

While home remedies cannot cure frozen shoulders entirely, they can help alleviate symptoms of frozen shoulder and improve comfort during the recovery process. Here are some home remedies and self-care tips that may be beneficial:

1. Hot and Cold Therapy

Applying a warm compress or heating pad to the affected shoulder can help relax the muscles and reduce pain. Alternatively, using an ice pack can help reduce inflammation and swelling. Apply each for about 15–20 minutes several times a day.

2. Pendulum Stretch

Gently swinging the arm in a circular motion while bending at the waist can help improve shoulder mobility and flexibility. You can do this exercise every day for a few days.

3. Stretching Exercises

Perform gentle stretching exercises to improve the range of motion in the shoulder. However, avoid any movements that cause severe pain.

4. Pain Relief

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen or acetaminophen can help manage pain and reduce inflammation. However, you must follow the recommended dosage and consult your doctor if you have any previous medical conditions or are taking other medications.

5. Rest

Avoid activities that exacerbate the pain or strain the shoulder. Take rest to properly heal the shoulder. 

6. Avoid Overhead Activities

Minimize reaching or lifting heavy objects above shoulder height, as these movements can aggravate the condition.

7. Posture Correction

Maintain good posture to reduce strain on the shoulder. Avoid hunching or slouching.

8. Sleeping Position

Sleep on the opposite side of the affected shoulder or use a pillow to support the arm to prevent discomfort during sleep.

9. Moist Heat Soaks

Soaking the shoulder in a warm bath can relieve and relax the muscles.

10. Massage

A gentle massage around the shoulder can help reduce muscle tension and improve blood flow.

Remember that while these home remedies can offer some relief, they are not a substitute for professional medical advice and treatment. 


Frozen shoulder can be a frustrating and painful condition, but it’s treatable, and with proper management, most people will fully recover.

If you think you may be dealing with a frozen shoulder, it’s essential to speak to a doctor as soon as possible. With the proper treatment and care, you can get your shoulder back to where it needs to be.

Frequently Asked Questions

The common symptoms of a frozen shoulder include pain, stiffness, limited range of motion, difficulty sleeping due to pain, and muscle weakness.

The freezing stage typically lasts for about two to nine months; the frozen stage can last for four to nine months; and the thawing stage can last anywhere from six to two years.

The exact cause of a frozen shoulder is often unknown. Still, certain factors may increase the likelihood of developing the condition, such as age (more common in people over 40), gender (more common in women), other health problems (diabetes, stroke), shoulder injury or surgery, and prolonged immobilization.

To diagnose a frozen shoulder, a doctor will typically conduct a physical examination to assess the range of motion and severity of pain. Imaging tests such as X-rays or MRIs can detect the condition of your shoulder. Moreover, it can rule out other potential causes of discomfort and confirm the diagnosis.

Treatment for a frozen shoulder often involves physical therapy to improve the range of motion and strengthen the shoulder joint. Painkillers such as corticosteroid injections can treat this condition. In severe conditions, your doctor may advise you to opt for surgery like manipulation of shoulder under sedation or short general anaesthesia.