Orthopedic Surgeon near Seattle, WA
Shoulder

How To Know If You Have a Frozen Shoulder

What is Adhesive Capsulitis?

Frozen shoulder describes all causes of motion loss in the shoulder. The most common reason for loss of motion is a condition known as adhesive capsulitis. In adhesive capsulitis, the shoulder capsule becomes stiff, leading to limited range of motion of the shoulder. The joint capsule is a watertight sac that encloses the joint and the fluid that lubricates it. The shoulder capsule becomes stiff because of a combination of inflammation and fribrosis (scarring of the capsule).

shoulder-frozen

Why people develop adhesive capsulitis is unknown. Women are more commonly affected than men. Risk factors include diabetes, thyroid disease, and heart disease. The majority of people who develop adhesive capsulitis have no known risk factors. It can also occur if the shoulder has been immobilized for a long period of time. 

Adhesive capsulitis is traditionally split into three phases. The first phase is the “inflammatory phase.” During this phase the shoulder is very painful and range of motion is only limited by pain. This phase typically lasts several months. The second phase is the “freezing phase.” The shoulder capsule becomes progressively more stiff during this phase and true limitation of motion develops. By the end of this phase, the shoulder is very stiff but is only painful at the end ranges of motion. This phase can last three to nine months. The last phase is the “thawing phase” during which shoulder range of motion and pain progressively improve, which typically lasts a year. The entire process can take up to two years to resolve.

Best Treatment Methods for a Frozen Shoulder

Treatment for adhesive capsulitis includes anti-inflammatory medications and physical therapy to try to maintain or improve motion. An injection of steroid (or cortisone) can sometimes improve symptoms. If this is unsuccessful, a manipulation under anesthesia usually leads to rapid improvement in symptoms. This involves being put to sleep by Dr. Fuchs for a few minutes while the shoulder is manipulated and the scar tissue is broken up. Occasionally, patients in the Seattle area will require an arthroscopic procedure to break up the scar tissue.