What is a Frozen shoulder: Signs, Risk Factor and Treatment

Dr. Davinder Singh

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Davinder Singh


7 min read

Key Takeaways

  • A frozen shoulder is a common shoulder condition that is usually characterized by a stiff and painful shoulder.
  • Symptoms of this condition start mainly with pain which slowly leads to restriction of movement.
  • Treatment involves medication, physiotherapy, home exercises besides others.

A frozen shoulder is a common shoulder condition that is usually characterized by a stiff and painful shoulder and medically termed as Adhesive capsulitis. The range of motion of the shoulder is limited which impacts daily activities. The pain in the initial stages is very disturbing.

We need to understand the basics of shoulder anatomy to understand Adhesive capsulitis. A shoulder joint is formed when the head of the upper arm bone (humerus), which is in the shape of a ball, attaches itself to the socket part of the shoulder blade bone (scapula). Connective tissue surrounds this shoulder joint, called the shoulder capsule. When this capsule becomes stiff and thick, it impacts the movement of the joint. The synovial fluid which is responsible to keep the joint lubricated is also reduced which causes even more restriction in movement. This condition is called the frozen shoulder or Adhesive capsulitis.

Signs And Symptoms Of Frozen Shoulder

Symptoms of this condition start mainly with pain which slowly leads to restriction of movement. The range of motion can be restricted in either one direction or multiple. The condition can be categorized into three stages:

First stage

This is normally called the ‘freezing stage’, where the pain is the main symptom. It can start with mild pain and can range up to excruciating pain. Restriction of movement also increases. This stage is about 6 weeks to 9 months in duration.

Second Stage

This stage is called the ‘Frozen stage’. This stage mainly entails the symptom of stiffness and hence the term ‘frozen’. The pain may lessen but the restriction of movement increases. The joint will be stiff to perform loads of daily activities. This stage is about 2 to 9 months.

Third stage

This stage is called the ‘thawing stage’. The pain reduces and also the range of motions begins to improve. Risk Factors associated with Frozen shoulder:

  • It is more common in the age of 40 to 60 years
  • Women are more prone to Frozen shoulder than men.
  • Health conditions such as diabetes are one of the risk factors for frozen shoulder. People with diabetes have more difficulty in recovering from the frozen shoulder as well.
  • Certain surgeries limit the arm movements such as mastectomy.
  • Certain diseases that lead to restriction of shoulder joint such as stroke, fracture of arms, rotator cuff injury etc.
Signs And Symptoms Of Frozen Shoulder

Risk for Developing Frozen Shoulder

Frozen shoulder typically affects people between the ages of 40 and 60. The condition is more common in women than men. People with diabetes or other chronic health conditions are also at greater risk of developing a frozen shoulder. Symptoms of a frozen shoulder include pain and stiffness in the affected shoulder. The pain may be worse at night or when trying to move the arm. The range of motion in the affected arm may be limited. There may also be swelling or tenderness in the area.

Additional Read: Fracture in Bones

Exercises For Frozen Shoulder

If you're dealing with a frozen shoulder, you know how painful and frustrating it can be. The good news is that there are exercises you can do to help relieve the pain and improve your range of motion.

One of the best exercises for a frozen shoulder is called the Pendulum Exercise. To do this exercise, stand up straight and let your arm hang down by your side. Using your other hand, grab your hanging arm just below the elbow and gently swing it in a small circle. As you swing your arm, gradually increase the size of the circle. Do this exercise for about 5 minutes, then switch arms and repeat.

Another good exercise for a frozen shoulder is the Wall Climb. To do this exercise:

  1. Stand with your back against a wall and your feet about shoulder-width apart
  2. Slowly walk your hands up the wall until your arms are fully extended overhead
  3. Hold this position for five seconds, then slowly lower your arms back down to your sides
  4. Repeat this exercise ten times

If you're dealing with a frozen shoulder, these exercises can help you find relief. Be sure to talk to your doctor before starting any new exercise routine.

Additional Read: Bone Tuberculosis

Diagnosis of Frozen Shoulder

To diagnose a frozen shoulder, your doctor will:

  • Review your medical history
  • Discuss your symptoms
  • Physically examine your arms and shoulders
  • The doctor will check the range of motion by moving your shoulder in all directions to determine your "passive range of motion"
  • The doctor will ask you to move your shoulder to check your "active range of motion"
  • They may also order imaging tests, such as an X-ray, to help rule out other causes of your symptoms

Your practitioner needs a physical examination to diagnose a frozen shoulder. Symptoms and medical history are asked followed by examining your shoulder and arms. The shoulder shall be moved in every direction to ascertain the range of motions.

Both ranges of motions i.e active and passive are tested. Passive range of motion is where the practitioner moves the shoulder in every direction to know the ranges. Active is when the patient moves the shoulder himself. X-rays may be prescribed to see arthritic changes or other abnormalities.

Treatment of Frozen Shoulder

If you're dealing with a frozen shoulder, you know how frustrating and painful it can be. The good news is that there are ways to treat it and get relief.

One of the most effective treatments for a frozen shoulder is physical therapy. A physical therapist can help to stretch and strengthen the muscles and tissues around the shoulder, which can help to reduce pain and improve the range of motion.

If physical therapy doesn't seem to be helping, your doctor may also recommend injections. These can be corticosteroid injections, which help to reduce inflammation, or hyaluronic acid injections, which can help to lubricate the joint.

Surgery is usually only recommended if other treatments haven't worked. During surgery, the doctor will make an incision in the shoulder and manipulate the tissues to break up any adhesions that are causing the frozen shoulder.

If you're dealing with a frozen shoulder, don't despair. Some treatments can help improve your symptoms and get you back to your normal self.

Frozen Shoulder

The treatment of frozen shoulder involves a combination of the following to get speedy recovery:

  1. Medications like NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), painkillers, etc can be recommended by doctors.
  2. Physiotherapy to improve the ranges and prevent further restriction of movements.
  3. Home exercises besides the exercises done by the physiotherapist in the center.
  4. Manipulation under anaesthesia, where the practitioner stretches the joint capsule to reduce the tightness.

Additional Read: Scoliosis

Physiotherapy in Frozen Shoulder

Your physiotherapist may recommend you few electro-modalities to reduce pain and inflammation. The electro-modalities can include:

  1. Short wave diathermy (S.W.D)
  2. Ultrasound therapy
  3. Interferential therapy (I.F.T)
  4. Transcutaneous Electrical Stimulation (TENs)

Physiotherapists also include a complete exercise regime that consists of stretching and strengthening exercises. To increase the joint range of motion, the physiotherapist may also include joint manipulation techniques.

Can a Frozen Shoulder be Prevented?

There's no sure way to prevent a frozen shoulder, but there are some things you can do to lower your risk. First, if you have any shoulder pain, see your doctor right away. Early treatment can help prevent the condition from getting worse. 

Second, maintain good posture and range of motion in your shoulder. Regular exercise, including stretching and range-of-motion exercises, can help keep your shoulder joint healthy.

Finally, if you have a condition that puts you at risk for a frozen shoulder, such as diabetes, be sure to follow your doctor's recommendations for treatment and management closely.

Stretching exercises include active stretching with the help of certain equipment such as shoulder wheel, shoulder ladder, pulley, etc. Strengthening exercises can be done with resistance exercises. The resistance can be provided by physiotherapists, dumbbells, sandbags, and thera-bands.

Additional Read: Bursitis

Apart from the exercises done in the physiotherapy center, it is advised to do exercises at home as taught by the physiotherapist. This will help in achieving a speedy recovery and prevent further restriction of movement. Once recovered, these exercises will help prevent rebound of the frozen shoulder. Although one should be regular with the exercises.

Do you wish to prevent the frozen shoulder? The good news is that the home exercises prescribed to treat the frozen shoulder can be done to prevent the same. It basically includes movement of the shoulder joint in all directions till the full range of motion. Ask your physiotherapist, and he/she shall show you the exercises which can be easily performed at home.

Today, you can easily get in touch with any relevant doctor, physiotherapist, and health expert on the Bajaj Finserv Health platform. You can not only search for doctors near you but also set up appointments, partake in video consultations, and share personal health records for the best diagnosis and advice. Get ready for a journey towards a healthy life!

Published on 17 Nov 2020Last updated on 4 May 2023

Please note that this article is solely meant for informational purposes and Bajaj Finserv Health Limited (“BFHL”) does not shoulder any responsibility of the views/advice/information expressed/given by the writer/reviewer/originator. This article should not be considered as a substitute for any medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always consult with your trusted physician/qualified healthcare professional to evaluate your medical condition. The above article has been reviewed by a qualified doctor and BFHL is not responsible for any damages for any information or services provided by any third party.

Dr. Davinder Singh

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Davinder Singh

, BAMS 1


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