Frozen Shoulder

Frozen shoulder results from the gradual loss of movement in the shoulder (glenohumeral) joint. This joint consists of a ball (the humeral head) and socket (the glenoid). Normally it is one of the most mobile joints in the body. When the shoulder is frozen, the joint has become stuck and its movement is limited.


  • A frozen shoulder is one that has become stuck and limited in movement.
  • Frozen shoulder is often caused by inflammation of the capsule, tissue surrounding the shoulder joint.
  • Diagnosing frozen shoulder requires a physical examination and possible X-rays or additional tests to rule out other causes of symptoms.

~What causes frozen shoulder?

Although many shoulder diseases involve pain and loss of motion, frozen shoulder is most often caused by inflammation (swelling, pain and irritation) of the tissues surrounding the joint. The tissue that envelops the joint and holds it together is called the capsule. Normally the capsule has folds that can expand and contract as the arm moves into various positions. In a frozen shoulder, the capsule has become inflamed and scarring develops. The scar formations are called adhesions. As the capsule’s folds become scarred and tightened, shoulder movement becomes restricted and moving the joint becomes painful. This condition is called adhesive (scarring) capsulitis (inflammation of the capsule).

How is frozen shoulder diagnosed?

The first step is to have a complete history and physical examination by your physician. Your physician may order several tests, such as X-rays, to rule out other potential causes of a painful shoulder or limited shoulder motion (arthritis, calcium deposits, etc.).

How is frozen shoulder treated?

The two main goals of treatment are to increase motion and to decrease pain. To increase motion, physical therapy is usually prescribed. The physical therapist moves the patient’s arm to stretch the capsule and teaches the patient home exercises that may include use of a wand or overhead pulley. He or she may also use ice, heat, ultrasound or electrical stimulation. The therapist will demonstrate a stretching program that you should do at least once or twice a day. These exercises include the use of a cane, a home pulley system and an elastic cord to increase motion of the shoulder.

Frozen Shoulder (Adhesive Capsulitis), Animation.

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