Understanding the sneaky condition that can affect mobility

Woman looking down at her shoulder and holding it with her handThe only thing worse than being given the cold shoulder is getting a frozen one. Learn more about the causes, symptoms and treatment options for adhesive capsulitis.

Frozen shoulder, also known as adhesive capsulitis, is a condition that results in extreme stiffness or tightness in the shoulder. Over time, the shoulder can become difficult to move and can even lead to other mobility issues. But not all hope is lost. Understanding adhesive capsulitis and its treatment options can help you stay prepared.

Symptoms of frozen shoulder usually include dullness or aching sensations paired with the gradual loss of mobility in the upper arm. Because of the initial pain and tightening, the condition is often mistaken for a rotator cuff tear or osteoarthritis.

Here’s a quick look at the stages of progression:

Freezing Stage

The ‘freezing’ stage is the build up to a completely frozen shoulder. This is when the pain starts to slowly progress. You may experience less and less range of motion as it worsens. This stage can last anywhere from a few weeks to over six months.

Frozen Stage

In the ‘frozen’ stage, the shoulder is at its stiffest and least mobile, though the pain may subside. It’s typically difficult to move the shoulder during this time. This stage can also last up to six months.

Thawing Stage

Just as it sounds, the shoulder can ‘thaw’ out slowly as stiffness lessens little by little. This relief can take anywhere from 6 months to 2 years.

What causes frozen shoulder?

There isn’t one specific reason that frozen shoulders occur, but there are risk factors. Those living with conditions like diabetes, hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, Parkinson’s and cardiac disease are more likely to develop frozen shoulder with symptoms that last longer. Being immobile for prolonged periods of time can also be a contributing factor.

Treatment and recovery

There are multiple potential treatments, including conservative, non-surgical and surgical options. By talking with your doctor, you’ll be able to assess which path is right for you.

These include:

  • Medication
  • Steroid injections (cortisone for anti-inflammation)
  • Hydrodilatation (fluid injection to stretch shoulder joint)
  • Physical therapy
  • Surgical procedures (shoulder arthroscopy)

Recovering from a frozen shoulder can be difficult. There is no single timeline for its three stages of development, which means the length of symptoms can vary from person to person. In fact, it can take up to three years for all three stages to develop and resolve – even more if there are other conditions present. Be sure to talk to your doctor to determine what treatment option is right for you.

SOURCES: National Institutes of Health; National Library of Medicine