What is a Frozen Shoulder?

A frozen shoulder is a condition characterized by inflammation, scarring and tightening of the connective tissue surrounding the shoulder joint, usually resulting in a large loss of shoulder movement. Frozen shoulders most commonly occur in people over 40 years of age and typically affect women more than men.

Causes of a Frozen Shoulder

The exact cause is not known, but it is thought to occur following injury or damage to the shoulder joint or adjacent soft tissue. In these cases, a frozen shoulder is more likely to develop if the initial injury is not treated appropriately.

Signs and Symptoms of a Frozen Shoulder

Frozen shoulders can generally be divided into 3 phases, each of which can last a number of months:

1.Pain – the shoulder typically becomes painful with most movements, and may also start to stiffen.

2.Freezing – a marked loss of movement of the shoulder, coinciding with scarring of the shoulder joint capsule. Patients typically experience difficulty when elevating the arm or taking their hand behind their back. Pain may decrease noticeably during this phase.

3.Thawing – In this final phase, the shoulder spontaneously begins to ‘loosen’ up and movement to the shoulder is gradually restored.

Treatment for a Frozen Shoulder

Once a frozen shoulder is established, little can be done to accelerate its course. Treatment is aimed at minimizing pain and maintaining range of movement and function. One of the key components of treatment is sufficient rest from ANY activity that increases your pain.

Prognosis of Frozen Shoulder

Most cases of frozen shoulder tend to settle after a number of months. In severe cases, symptoms may be present for 18 months or longer. Usually the painful stage of a frozen shoulder lasts 2 – 6 months. The frozen phase approximately 4 -12 months, whilst the thawing phase may last an additional 4 – 18 months.

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