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Frozen Shoulder (Adhesive Capsulitis)

A condition of the shoulder that results in pain and loss of the ability to move the shoulder in all directions.

PubMed Health Glossary
(Source: NIH - National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases)

About Frozen Shoulder

If you have what is known as frozen shoulder, your shoulder gradually becomes painful and stiff without there being any clear cause. It most commonly affects people around the age of 50.

Symptoms

Frozen shoulder starts out very gradually. The pain is usually only mild at first, but becomes more severe over the course of a few months and often makes it hard to sleep. It then becomes increasingly difficult to lift your arm up or move it backwards. Over time the shoulder can become so stiff that it is nearly impossible to move, as if "frozen" in place. The medical term for frozen shoulder is "adhesive capsulitis."

Causes

Joints connect the different bones in our bodies. In the shoulder joint, the rounded end of the bone in the upper arm (humerus) fits into a socket in the shoulder blade (scapula). This "ball and socket joint" is surrounded by a strong fibrous membrane called the joint capsule.

In frozen shoulder, scar-like adhesions form in the joint capsule, causing it to thicken. Inflammations are believed to play a major role here, but it is not entirely clear what happens. In most cases no underlying cause is found for frozen shoulder. In rare cases it may develop following an accident, an inflammation or immobilization of the shoulder joint, for example after surgery. It is then referred to as "secondary" frozen shoulder...
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What works? Research summarized

Evidence reviews

Arthrographic distension for adhesive capsulitis (frozen shoulder)

‐ May improve pain at three weeks.

Management of Frozen Shoulder: A Systematic Review and Cost-Effectiveness Analysis

Frozen shoulder is condition in which movement of the shoulder becomes restricted. It can be described as either primary (idiopathic) whereby the aetiology is unknown, or secondary, when it can be attributed to another cause. It is commonly a self-limiting condition, of approximately 1 to 3 years' duration, though incomplete resolution can occur.

Electrotherapy modalities for adhesive capsulitis (frozen shoulder)

Frozen shoulder is a common cause of shoulder pain and stiffness. The pain and stiffness can last up to two to three years before going away, and in the early stages it can be very painful.

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Summaries for consumers

Arthrographic distension for adhesive capsulitis (frozen shoulder)

‐ May improve pain at three weeks.

Frozen shoulder: Overview

Frozen shoulder starts out very gradually. The pain is usually only mild at first, but becomes more severe over the course of a few months and often makes it hard to sleep. Over time the shoulder can become so stiff that it is nearly impossible to move, as if “frozen” in place. At what age are people most commonly affected by frozen shoulder? And what can help relieve the symptoms until it gets better on its own?

Frozen shoulder: What can help?

Frozen shoulder will get better on its own at some point– but it sometimes takes quite a while. Medicine can relieve the pain, and stretching exercises may help to improve mobility.A frozen shoulder gradually starts hurting over the course of several weeks. After a few months the pain gets better but the shoulder becomes stiffer, and sometimes it is hardly possible to move it at all. After a few more months the shoulder will gradually loosen up again.It can take a long time for frozen shoulder to get completely better. A number of different treatments can help to relieve the pain and improve mobility. But there is no treatment to make it go away faster.

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Terms to know

Adhesions in the Shoulder
In frozen shoulder, the shoulder capsule thickens, swells, and tightens due to bands of scar tissue (adhesions) that have formed inside the capsule. As a result, there is less room in the joint for the humerus, making movement of the shoulder stiff and painful.
Bursitis
Inflammation or irritation of a bursa, the fibrous sac that acts as a cushion between moving structures of bones, muscles, tendons or skin.
Inflammation
Redness, swelling, pain, and/or a feeling of heat in an area of the body. This is a protective reaction to injury, disease, or irritation of the tissues.
Joint Capsule
Dense fibrous connective tissue sealing the joint. It is attached to the bones and provides stability.

More about Frozen Shoulder

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Other terms to know: See all 4
Adhesions in the Shoulder, Bursitis, Inflammation

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