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Frozen shoulder

Written by Caidr's team of doctors and pharmacists based in UK | Updated: 28.02.2023 | 2 min read

Frozen shoulder is a condition characterized by pain and loss of movement of the shoulder. Otherwise known as adhesive capsulitis, frozen shoulder is a disorder affecting the lining of the shoulder joint, which becomes inflamed and tightens.

Who gets frozen shoulder?

Frozen shoulder most commonly affects people aged 40-70, and around one in ten people will develop symptoms in the other shoulder within five to ten years. The cause of frozen shoulder is poorly understood. Broadly, there are two types of frozen shoulder.

Primary frozen shoulder is where the specific cause of the disorder is not known. Secondary frozen shoulder is where there is a known cause, this can be an injury or certain illnesses. While the cause of primary frozen shoulder is unknown, certain conditions are known to be associated with the risk of developing frozen shoulder. These include diabetes and certain autoimmune conditions.

Frozen shoulder typically starts with a painful phase with associated loss of motion. As time passes, the pain often improves, but the shoulder remains stiff. Later, the range of movement of the shoulder starts to improve as the frozen shoulder is resolving, this time period can also be associated with a slight worsening of pain. These three distinct phases of frozen shoulder can be considered the freezing stage, frozen stage, and finally, the thawing stage.

Frozen shoulder is a disorder that improves without treatment in almost all cases. The condition usually lasts, on average, from 6 to 24 months. The majority of sufferers make a complete recovery, with a small proportion of people having some residual shoulder stiffness that not does tend to impact their quality of life. As the disorder is highly likely to improve without intervention, treatments are aimed at minimizing symptoms and reducing the impact on your quality of life.

When to see your doctor?

If you develop severe shoulder pain and stiffness following an injury, you should seek medical attention promptly. If your shoulder pain and stiffness have come on very quickly or is associated with you feeling unwell, especially with a fever, you should seek urgent medical attention.

What will my doctor do?

The doctor will ask you about your symptoms and examine you. They may feel that you will benefit from an X-Ray to assess the shoulder joint for other causes of pain and stiffness. If a diagnosis of frozen shoulder is made, you may be offered tests to identify underlying associated conditions such as diabetes.

You may be referred to a physiotherapist, depending upon the local services available. If your symptoms fail to improve despite physiotherapy input or are very severe, you may be referred to an orthopedic surgeon. Additional hospital treatments that can be offered for frozen shoulder include injections or, very rarely, surgery to release tight tissue and possibly attempt to manipulate the shoulder. It is important to remember that in most cases, an almost complete recovery can be expected without requiring any form of injection or surgery.

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