Frozen Shoulder

If your shoulder becomes so stiff that you have trouble raising your arm without pain, you may have a “frozen shoulder.”

Your shoulder is considered a ball and socket joint. It is formed by three bones: the shoulder blade, or scapula, the upper arm bone, or humerus, and your collarbone, or clavicle. The rounded top of your humerus fits into an indentation in your shoulder blade, forming the ball-and-socket joint.

The joint is covered by a capsule and is filled with fluid. Inside the capsule, the bones are covered by a flexible tissue called cartilage. The fluid and cartilage in your joint provide a protective cushion that helps your bones slide against each other smoothly.

Frozen shoulder is caused when the amount of fluid in your shoulder joint decreases. This causes your capsule to become thick and inflamed. Bands of scar tissue called adhesions then form inside your joint. This condition is also called “adhesive capsulitis.” Healthcare providers don’t know why this happens.

Frozen shoulder is associated with conditions like diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, thyroid disorders, heart disease, and Parkinson’s disease.

Shoulders can freeze after an injury or surgery. Moving your shoulder soon after an injury or surgery can help keep your shoulder from freezing.

Symptoms

A frozen shoulder often starts with pain and stiffness. This is called the freezing stage. Over time, you may have more trouble moving your shoulder, but your pain may lessen. This is called the frozen stage. Toward the end of the frozen stage, it gets easier to move your shoulder. This is called the thawing stage.

Some of the symptoms you might get with frozen shoulder include:

  • Pain
  • Stiffness, and
  • Difficulty moving your shoulder

Diagnosis

To find out if you have frozen shoulder, your health care provider will check to see how well your arm moves. Often this is enough to determine if you have a frozen shoulder.

X-rays typically aren’t used to diagnose frozen shoulder. However, your provider may recommend an X-ray or other imaging tests to rule out other causes of your shoulder problem.

Treatment

Frozen shoulders often get better on their own. Your provider may recommend that you take acetaminophen or medications known as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or N-SAIDs . Well-known NSAIDs include ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin. If your pain or stiffness is severe, your provider may prescribe a short course of medications called steroids. Steroid medications ease inflammation and swelling in the joint.

A steroid injection into your shoulder joint may help relieve your symptoms.

Your provider might also recommend exercises to do at home or with a physical therapist. Applying heat or ice to your shoulder may also help relieve your symptoms.

Surgery is rarely needed for frozen shoulders but might be considered if your symptoms don’t improve with other treatments.

Things to Remember

  1. Frozen shoulders often get better on their own.
  2. Moving your shoulder a lot can reduce your chances of having it freeze again.
  3. Over-the-counter medications, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, may help with your pain.

If your shoulder is stiff and painful, it’s important to talk with your provider about your symptoms. Working together with your provider is the best way to get answers and help you feel better.

What We Have Learned

  1. Keeping your shoulder still can keep it from freezing again. True or False?
    The answer is false. Moving your shoulder a lot can reduce your chances of having it freeze again.

  2. Frozen shoulders often get better on their own. True or False?
    The answer is true. Doing exercises or working with a physical therapist can help your shoulder get better.