What is Frozen Shoulder?

Are you experiencing pain and stiffness in your shoulder that’s limiting your ability to move freely? You’re not alone. Frozen shoulder (also known as adhesive capsulitis) can significantly impact your daily life. This article will discuss the causes and symptoms of frozen shoulder, as well as the most effective treatment options available. 

If you’re ready to take control of your shoulder health and get back to doing the things you love, don’t hesitate to reach out to Orthopedic Specialists & Sports Medicine. With convenient locations in Ohio, including Granville and Coshocton, our experienced team is here to help you every step of the way. Schedule an appointment today and start your journey towards recovery.

Anatomy of the Shoulder

The shoulder joint is like a ball and socket, allowing a wide range of motion for our arms. It connects the upper arm bone (humerus) to the shoulder blade (scapula). Shoulder movement involves the coordinated work of muscles, tendons, and ligaments.

Frozen shoulder, also called adhesive capsulitis, happens when the joint capsule, a sturdy tissue around the shoulder joint, thickens and tightens. This restricts movement and causes pain. Imagine your shoulder joint wrapped in a tight rubber band, making it hard to move your upper arm freely.

What Causes Frozen Shoulder?

Frozen shoulder occurs when the tissue around the shoulder joint thickens and tightens. This tissue, called the joint capsule, normally allows for smooth movement. But when it becomes stiff and inflamed, it restricts motion in the upper arm.

Several factors can lead to frozen shoulder. Injury or surgery to the shoulder can cause scar tissue to form, which may contribute to the problem. For instance, a rotator cuff tear—a common shoulder injury—can increase the risk of developing frozen shoulder. 

A man with frozen shoulder pain in Granville, Ohio.

Frozen Shoulder Symptoms

Frozen shoulder can be quite uncomfortable, and its symptoms can vary from person to person. Here are some common signs to watch out for:

  • Stiffness: One of the earliest signs of frozen shoulder is stiffness in the shoulder joint. It may start gradually and worsen over time. You might find it challenging to move your arm as freely as before, especially when reaching overhead or behind your back.
  • Pain: Pain is another hallmark symptom of frozen shoulder. It can range from mild to severe and is often felt deep within the shoulder joint. The pain may worsen with movement and can interfere with daily activities like getting dressed or reaching for objects.
  • Limited Range of Motion: As the condition progresses, you may notice a significant reduction in your shoulder’s range of motion. Simple tasks like lifting your arm or rotating it outward become increasingly difficult. This limitation can impact your ability to perform routine activities and may cause frustration.
  • Difficulty Sleeping: Many people with frozen shoulder experience difficulty sleeping due to the pain and discomfort. Finding a comfortable sleeping position can be challenging, especially if lying on the affected side aggravates the symptoms.
  • Muscle Weakness: Over time, the lack of movement and use of the shoulder muscles can lead to weakness. You may notice that your arm feels weaker than usual, making it harder to perform tasks that require strength, such as lifting objects or carrying groceries.
  • Progressive Worsening: Frozen shoulder typically develops in stages, with symptoms worsening over time before gradually improving. It’s essential to seek medical attention if you experience persistent shoulder pain and stiffness, as early diagnosis and treatment can help prevent further complications.

If you’re experiencing these symptoms, it’s essential to consult a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment plan. With proper care, most people can recover from frozen shoulder and regain full function of their shoulder joint.

How is Frozen Shoulder Usually Diagnosed?

To diagnose frozen shoulder, doctors often begin with a physical examination to assess the shoulder’s range of motion and look for signs of stiffness and pain. They may also ask about your medical history and any recent injuries or surgeries.

Imaging tests such as X-rays or MRI scans can help rule out other conditions and provide a clearer picture of the shoulder joint’s structure. These tests can reveal any underlying issues, such as bone spurs or rotator cuff tears.

In some cases, a doctor may perform a procedure called arthrography, where dye is injected into the shoulder joint to highlight any abnormalities in the joint capsule.

Overall, the combination of physical examination and imaging tests helps doctors diagnose frozen shoulder and develop an appropriate treatment plan.

Frozen Shoulder Treatment

Treatment for frozen shoulder often involves a combination of approaches to relieve pain and improve shoulder mobility. Your treatment could include the following:

  • Physical Therapy: A physical therapist can guide you through exercises to stretch and strengthen the shoulder muscles, helping to improve flexibility and restore range of motion.
  • Pain Management: Over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen may help alleviate discomfort. In some cases, your doctor may recommend steroid injections into the shoulder joint to reduce inflammation and pain.
  • Heat and Cold Therapy: Applying heat or cold packs to the shoulder can help reduce pain and inflammation. Alternating between the two can provide relief and promote healing.
  • Home Exercises: Your healthcare provider may prescribe specific exercises for you to do at home to maintain and improve shoulder mobility between physical therapy sessions.
  • Surgery: In severe cases where conservative treatments aren’t effective, surgery may be necessary to release the tight tissues around the shoulder joint.

It’s essential to work closely with your healthcare team to develop a personalized treatment plan that addresses your individual needs and helps you regain the full function of your shoulder.

Take Control of Your Shoulder Health

Don’t let frozen shoulder limit your daily activities any longer. With the right treatment plan, including physical therapy, pain management, and possibly surgery, you can regain mobility and find relief from discomfort. If you’re experiencing symptoms of frozen shoulder, it’s essential to seek help from a trusted orthopedic specialist. 

At Orthopedic Specialists & Sports Medicine, with locations in Granville and Coshocton, OH, our team of experts is dedicated to providing compassionate care and personalized treatment plans to help you get back to doing what you love. Schedule an appointment today and take the first step towards a healthier, more active lifestyle.

Medically reviewed by Brad L. Bernacki, MD