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What is Frozen Shoulder?

Frozen Shoulder is a Stiffening of the Shoulder

The demands upon the shoulder can be dramatic, especially when it comes to overhead sports and engaging in work that demands an extensive range of movement.

Though the shoulder joint offers a very high range of motion (the shoulder is considered the "most mobile" joint) it is still susceptible to injury when its full range of motion is exceeded or the shoulder is overloaded due to activity.

What is Frozen Shoulder?

Frozen Shoulder Can Make Everyday Activities Such as Lifting Difficult

In a nutshell, frozen shoulder is a stiffening of the shoulder. It is also knowns as adhesive capsulitis. It may make your daily routine virtually impossible if you are using the joint often during work or everyday activities. And the condition may be even more debilitating if you are involved in high-level athletics.

Frozen Shoulder: What Is Happening?

In our shoulder, we have a "capsule"' or joint lining. When this soft tissue that is in this capsule thickens and tightens, the result can be scarring that leads to motion loss.

The result is the aforementioned stiffness of the shoulder, which is bad enough. But it can also lead to additional shoulder conditions like rotator cuff tears, labral tears, and impingement.

What Are The Symptoms of Frozen Shoulder?

Pain and loss of motion are the major symptoms of frozen shoulder. These may develop gradually or happen quickly and suddenly. The cause of the injury will determine whether it's something that develops over time or occurs at the time of injury.

The Three Phases of Frozen Shoulder

Frozen shoulder usually occurs in phases:

  • The "Freezing Stage." In the freezing stage, we have an increase in pain and inflammation. The joint will get stiffer as time goes on, and the range of motion will degrade. Sometimes this stage may be tough to distinguish from other shoulder conditions, notably shoulder impingement.

  • The "Frozen Stage." Stiffness is still present but begins to ease and will decrease as time goes on. In this stage, the pain has significantly reduced.

  • The "Thawing Stage." Patients do not always reach this stage, but for the prototypical frozen shoulder, this phase happens after between eight and twelve months.

The Two Types Of Frozen Shoulder

Primary Adhesive Capsulitis

This variation of frozen shoulder happens when a person loses range of motion to the shoulder gradually. Here are some of the facts about primary adhesive capsulitis:

  • The cause of this condition is unknown

  • It is an inflammatory condition

  • It can be extremely painful

  • It often accompanies hormonal inbalances or immune system changes

  • Surgery can help in severe cases, but there are cases when surgical treatment does not always help.

Secondary Adhesive Capsulitis

In this variation of frozen shoulder, the condition is occuring as a result of a known cause. Secondary adhesive capsulitis can develop after

  • An injury

  • A shoulder fracture

  • A past shoulder injury that required surgery

In severe cases, we may perform surgery on this condition. To learn more about our orthopaedic shoulder surgeons, click below.


Dr. Erik Dorf, Dr. Bill Sterett, and Dr. Rick Cunningham are experts in treating shoulder injuries.


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