Understanding a frozen shoulder
Tuesday 3 October 2017

What is frozen shoulder?

Frozen shoulder is a common condition that causes tightness, stiffness and pain in your shoulder joint, and makes it hard to move your arm and shoulder. It is sometimes medically referred to as adhesive capsulitis or shoulder contracture.

What causes frozen shoulder?

Frozen shoulder is caused when the flexible tissue around your shoulder joint becomes inflamed and thickened. We don’t know for sure why this happens but there are some things that can increase your risk of developing a frozen shoulder including:

A previous shoulder injury or shoulder surgery that stops you from moving your arm normally. Diabetes - it is not fully understood why diabetes can cause frozen shoulder.

Dupuytren's contracture – a condition where scar-like tissue forms beneath skin of your fingers and palm causing your fingers to curl up into your palm.

Other health conditions, such as heart disease and stroke.

Being aged between the ages of 40 and 60.

Being a woman.

What are the symptoms of frozen shoulder?

Pain and persistent stiffness symptoms of frozen shoulder tend to gradually become worse over a number of months or years. Typically, frozen shoulder occurs in three stages:

Freezing stage - you’ll first experience shoulder pain for up to nine months, which can be severe and often gets worse when moving your arm and at night when you lie on the affected side.

Frozen stage – your shoulder will feel increasingly stiff and hard to move making it difficult to do everyday activities such as dressing or getting bathed. If you develop severe frozen shoulder you will be unable to move your shoulder at all. Your pain may be less than in the freezing stage. This stage lasts for four to twelve months.

Thawing stage. You’ll regain some movement of your shoulder and be able to do many tasks again. Gradually you may be able to move your shoulder normally, although you may not regain full movement of your shoulder. Your pain will get better. This stage can last from six months to many years.

When to see your GP about your frozen shoulder

It’s best to have an early diagnosis of frozen shoulder, so that treatment can be given to help prevent any long-term symptoms.

You should see your GP if you experience any shoulder pains that limit your movement and ability to perform daily tasks.

How to treat frozen shoulder

Frozen shoulder may eventually get better without treatment, but recovery is normally slow, taking at least 18 to 24 months. Some people may suffer from the condition without improvement for five or more years.

Treatment will be based on the severity and progression of your frozen shoulder. It can help reduce your pain and improve your ability to move your shoulder whilst it heals. Your doctor will discuss the suitable options for your individual circumstances.

Treatment may include:

Painkillers – including paracetamol, codeine and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) such as ibuprofen.

Corticosteroid injections - medicines that can help reduce pain and inflammation and improve your ability to move your shoulder.

Shoulder exercises - regular, gentle stretching exercises can prevent your stiffness getting worse.

Physiotherapy – including stretching exercises to move your joint in all directions, massage and thermotherapy using warm or cold temperature packs.

Surgery – uncommon but may be recommended if your pain is severe and other treatments haven’t worked after six months. Surgical options include manipulation under anaesthetic and arthroscopic capsular release.

Treatment and advice available at North Downs Hospital

We offer convenient and rapid appointment for patients suffering from frozen shoulder. You may see one of our experienced shoulder surgeons for advice and treatment or one of our chartered physiotherapists for an assessment and a tailored physiotherapy programme.

To book an appointment with a consultant orthopaedic surgeon please call 01883 348981 or contact us.

For a physiotherapy appointment please call 01883 345202 or 01883 337 436.

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