Frozen shoulder: Causes, symptoms, and treatments

Frozen shoulder is a common condition in which the shoulder stiffens, reducing its mobility.

It is also known as adhesive capsulitis.

The term “frozen shoulder” is often used incorrectly for arthritis, but these two conditions are unrelated.

Frozen shoulder refers specifically to the shoulder joint, while arthritis may refer to other or multiple joints.

It commonly affects people aged between 40 and 60 years, and it is more likely in women than in men. It is estimated to affect about 3 percent of people.

It can affect one or both shoulders.

Exercises

man holding his left shoulder in pain
Symptoms of frozen shoulder include persistent pain in the upper shoulder joint.

Frequent, gentle exercise can prevent and possibly reverse stiffness in the shoulder.

The American Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) suggest some simple exercises. One is the crossover arm stretch.

Crossover arm stretch: Holding the upper arm of the affected side, gently pull the arm across in front of you, under the chin. Hold for 30 seconds. Relax and repeat.

Exercises should be guided by a doctor, an osteopath, or a physical therapist.

Anyone experiencing stiffness in the shoulder joint should seek medical attention sooner rather than later to prevent permanent stiffness.

Harvard Medical School suggest the following exercises for relieving a frozen shoulder.

Pendulum stretch

Stand with the shoulders relaxed. Lean forward with the hand of the unaffected arm resting on a table. Let the affected arm hang down vertically and swing in a small circle, around 1 foot in diameter. Increase the diameter over several days, as you gain strength.

Towel stretch

Grab both ends of a towel behind your back. With the good arm, pull the towel, and the affected arm, up toward the shoulder. Repeat 10 to 20 times a day.

There are more exercises you can try.

Symptoms

A person with a frozen shoulder will have a persistently painful and stiff shoulder joint.

Signs and symptoms develop gradually, and usually resolve on their own.

older woman
Women aged over 40 years are more likely to develop frozen shoulder.

Common risk factors for frozen shoulder are:

Age: Being over 40 years of age.

Gender: 70 percent of people with frozen shoulder are women.

Recent trauma: Surgery or and arm fracture can lead to immobility during recovery, and this may cause the shoulder capsule to stiffen.

Diabetes: 10 to 20 percent of people with diabetes develop frozen shoulder, and symptoms may be more severe. The reasons are unclear

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