OrthoVirginia Blog

What is Frozen Shoulder?

A common diagnosis for shoulder pain and decreased function is “frozen shoulder.”  But what is this disorder?  Technically, the condition is known as “adhesive capsulitis.”  This condition occurs when the tissue around the shoulder joint (known as the capsule) stiffens.  It may occur after a minor injury but often develops without any clear reason.  There is a possibility it can be linked to other health issues such as diabetes or thyroid disease, but no clear origin of the disorder has been defined. 


This disorder affects 2-5% percent of the population.  It usually affects people between 40 and 65 years of age.  The problem usually lasts 1-2 years.  Frozen shoulder is generally characterized into three stages: 1) “freezing,” which is a progressive loss of motion, decreased function, and pain; 2) “frozen,” where the shoulder is stiff and painful; and 3) “thawing,” which is a gradual return of range of motion and function.  During the freezing and frozen stages, the pain and decreased range of motion may impact daily activities such as getting dressed, brushing one’s hair, reaching into a cabinet, and sleeping on the affected side.


What treatments are available for frozen shoulder?


A physician is the only person capable of diagnosing frozen shoulder.  But if it is diagnosed, there are a number of recommendations and treatment options available.  First of all, experts urge that a person who has been diagnosed with frozen shoulder continue their daily activities as normally as possible. Continuing to use the affected arm will help to loosen it. A physician may recommend a cortisone injection to the shoulder or oral anti-inflammatories.  Finally, physical therapy is a key portion of the treatment for frozen shoulder.


What can physical therapists do for frozen shoulder?


Physical therapists can perform a number of treatments for frozen shoulder.  This includes heat to the shoulder to loosen it, followed by joint mobilizations and stretching.  Patient education and a home program are critical components that a PT can provide.  Your physical therapist can help you understand the condition, and customize a treatment program for you to perform at home to decrease the pain and stiffness associated with frozen shoulder.  This is in conjunction with those treatments performed in the clinic on a regular basis.


For more information, please visit your physician or a physical therapist that specializes in musculoskeletal disorders.

 E. Dan Syrett, DPT

Physical Therapist

OrthoVirginia/West End Orthopaedic Clinic