Frozen Shoulder

Frozen shoulder, also called adhesive capsulitis, causes pain and stiffness in the shoulder. Over time, the shoulder becomes very hard to move.

Frozen shoulder occurs in about 2% of the general population. It most commonly affects people between the ages of 40 and 60, and occurs in women more often than men.

What causes frozen shoulder?

Most often, frozen shoulder occurs with no associated injury or discernible cause. There are patients who develop a frozen shoulder after a traumatic injury to the shoulder, but this is not the usual cause. Some risk factors for developing a frozen shoulder include:

  • Age & Gender
    Frozen shoulder most commonly affects patients between the ages of 40 to 60 years old, and it is twice as common in women than in men.
  • Endocrine Disorders
    Patients with diabetes are at particular risk for developing a frozen shoulder. Other endocrine abnormalities, such as thyroid problems, can also lead to this condition.
  • Shoulder Trauma or Surgery
    Patients who sustain a shoulder injury, or undergo surgery on the shoulder can develop a frozen shoulder joint. When injury or surgery is followed by prolonged joint immobilization, the risk of developing a frozen shoulder is highest.
  • Other Systemic Conditions
    Several systemic conditions such as heart disease and Parkinson’s disease have also been associated with an increased risk for developing a frozen shoulder.

Symptoms

The main symptoms are:

  • Decreased motion of the shoulder
  • Pain
  • Stiffness

Frozen shoulder without any known cause starts with pain. This pain prevents you from moving your arm. The lack of movement leads to stiffness and then even less motion. Over time, you become unable to perform activities such as reaching over your head or behind you.

What happens with a frozen shoulder?

No one really understands why some people develop a frozen shoulder. For some reason, the shoulder joint becomes stiff and scarred. The shoulder joint is a ball and socket joint. The ball is the top of the arm bone (the humeral head), and the socket is part of the shoulder blade (the glenoid). Surrounding this ball-and-socket joint is a capsule of tissue that envelops the joint.
Normally, the shoulder joint allows more motion than any other joint in the body. When a patient develops a frozen shoulder, the capsule that surrounds the shoulder joint becomes contracted. The patients form bands of scar tissue called adhesions. The contraction of the capsule and the formation of the adhesions cause the frozen shoulder to become stiff and cause movement to become painful.

What is the prognosis of a frozen shoulder?

The prognosis of a frozen shoulder depends on its response to physical therapy, exercises, and treatments as described above. Again, it is essential to avoid reinjuring the shoulder tissues during the rehabilitation period. Patients with resistant frozen shoulders can be considered for release of the scar tissue by arthroscopic surgery or manipulation of the scarred shoulder under anesthesia. Without aggressive treatment, a frozen shoulder can be permanent.

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