Thawing the Mystery of Frozen Shoulder Syndrome

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If you’re between the ages of 40 and 60 and start having pain and stiffness in your shoulder, you likely won’t be able to simply “let it go.”

This pain and stiffness is a condition called adhesive capsulitis, also known as frozen shoulder, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS).

Frozen shoulder affects about 2 percent of people, most commonly people between the ages of 40 and 60, according to the AAOS. Women are affected more often than men.

The AAOS describes the condition as happening in three stages:

  • Freezing – As you have more and more pain, your shoulder begins to lose range of motion. This lasts between six weeks to nine months.
  • Frozen – Though stiffness remains, the painful symptoms can improve during this stage, which lasts four to six months. The stiffness causes day-to-day activities to be difficult.
  • Thawing – Shoulder motion slowly returns during this stage, which can last from six months to two years.

The cause of frozen shoulder is not completely understood, but it is thought that having diabetes, hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, Parkinson’s disease, cardiac disease, or having the shoulder immobilized for a period of time all could increase the risk for the problem, according to the AAOS.

For most people, frozen shoulder gets better over time. However, because it can take up to three years, health care providers focus on pain control and helping to improve motion and strength in the meantime, according to the AAOS.

Using non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, naproxen, or aspirin, will help with the pain and swelling, according to the AAOS. Additionally, steroids, such as cortisone, can be injected directly into the joint.

Physical therapy is sometimes also helpful in gaining range of motion and building strength over time, according to the AAOS.

If medication and therapy don’t help to ease symptoms of frozen shoulder, surgery may be an option. Your doctor can help you weigh out the risks and benefits of having surgery, which could stretch and release the stiff joint, according to the AAOS.

For more information about frozen shoulder syndrome, talk with your sports medicine or orthopedic doctor or visit our orthopedics page to find a physician. 

It's easy to get the care you need.

See a Premier Physician Network provider near you.