Frozen Shoulder: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

Feeling a stiff shoulder accompanied by pain and inability to move your arm? Well, you might be suffering from ‘Frozen Shoulder’ that affects your shoulder joint. Also called Adhesive Capsulitis, it causes the tissues surrounding the shoulder joint, to thicken and tighten, thereby making it difficult for the arm to move. The condition is often confused with arthritis, but the two are not related. It can affect one or both of the shoulders.

The human shoulder comprises of three bones that resemble a ball and socket joint. They are your upper arm called humerus, shoulder blade called scapula, and collarbone called clavicle. These bones are held together by tissues called the shoulder capsule. When these tissues become hard, scar tissues develop over time, resulting in pain and restriction of arm movement. This is what is referred to as a frozen shoulder.

Symptoms of this condition can be easily detected. They could be:

  • Acute pain and stiffness that restrict and obstructs shoulder and arm movement
  • Dull pain in one or both shoulders
  • Pain in the shoulder muscles that wrap the top of your arm

The symptoms develop in three stages. The first stage is the freezing stage where shoulder movement causes pain and the range of movement becomes limited. As the condition advances to second stage called frozen stage, the pain may diminish, but shoulder becomes stiffer and it using it becomes more difficult.  At the last stage, called the thawing stage, the range of motion starts to go back to normal and the pain reduces to a large extent. All this can take place from a year to three years.


Hormonal imbalance, diabetes and a weakened immune system might make a person vulnerable to joint inflammation. Long period of inactivity due to an injury or illness might also make shoulder tissues prone to the condition. Frozen tissue affects adults over 40 years and is more common in women.


Medications such as anti-inflammatory drugs or steroidal injections are normally administered to reduce the inflammation in the tissues. But these are often not beneficial in the long run and might cause side-effects. What comes to the rescue of patients suffering from this condition is the physical therapy or physiotherapy. Physiotherapy is most useful in restoring the full and unrestricted movement of shoulders. It can help to reduce the pain and stiffness and if caught early enough can prevent full onset of the condition. Various stretching and strengthening exercises can help release a frozen shoulder. Appropriate exercise programs done under the supervision of a trained physiotherapist can go a long way in relieving the patients of their pain. However, if the frozen shoulder does not respond to non-surgical treatment, then surgery to release or stretch the scar tissue is also resorted to in some cases.