Frozen Shoulder Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Frozen shoulder is a common condition where your shoulder stiffens and reduces mobility. The medical condition is also known as adhesive capsulitis and mostly affects people who are in the age group of 40 to 60 years. Frozen shoulder is likely to affect about 3 percent of people and is more likely to affect men than women.

The condition is known to affect your shoulder joint and involves pain and stiffness that would develop gradually and will get worse and then finally go away.

It can affect one or both of your shoulders.

The shoulder is made up of three bones that form a ball-and-socket joint. They are your shoulder blade, upper arm, and collarbone. There is also a tissue that surrounds your shoulder joint holding everything together and it is called the shoulder capsule. When you have a frozen shoulder, the capsule gets thick and tight and it’s hard to move. There are bands of scar tissue that are formed and there’s less of a liquid, called the synovial fluid to keep the joint lubricated. These can limit your motion even more.


The symptoms of a frozen shoulder include pain triggered even by the small movements and aching pain throughout the shoulder that radiates into the upper arm. These symptoms will make it difficult for you to perform even the simplest activities like combing your hair or putting away the dishes from the table. You will also experience difficulty in grabbing something from your back pocket or putting on your belt.

Mainly, the symptoms of frozen shoulder are not due to the weakness in the shoulder but are due to the rigidity in the joint. You may not be able to lift or raise your arm. Sometimes, without any treatment, the frozen shoulder goes away on its own.  

The typical progression of the condition is marked by three stages:

Freezing stage:  This is the first stage of the condition.  The pain and restricted motion starts at this stage and can last anywhere from 6 to 9 months. You may be limited in how far your shoulder can be moved.

Frozen stage:  In this stage, your motion gets severely limited and the pain might get a little better but the stiffness will get worse. This stage can last for 4 to 10 months.

Thawing stage:  This is the stage when your shoulder begins to loosen up. The range of motion will begin to go back to normal and this stage can take anywhere from 6 months to 2 years.

It may take years to get to the thawing stage, but you need to seek treatment rather than wait to get things better.

Causes of frozen shoulder

The exact cause of the frozen shoulder is not completely understood and it cannot always be identified. Most people who suffer from this condition may have experienced immobility as a result of a recent fracture or injury. Frozen shoulder is also common in people who suffer from diabetes.

 Women are more likely to suffer from frozen shoulder than men and people between the ages of 40 and 60 are more prone to it. Your risk will be more if you are recovering from a stroke or a surgery like a mastectomy. There are certain medical conditions and problems that increase your risk of having a frozen shoulder. Around 10% to 20% of people who suffer from diabetes get frozen shoulder. Other medical problems like thyroid disease, heart disease, or Parkinson’s disease are also linked with frozen shoulder.

Risk Factors

 The most common risk factors of frozen shoulder are:

Age:  If you are above the age of 40, then your risk is more

Gender: 70 percent of people who get frozen shoulder are women

Diabetes: People who suffer from diabetes are prone to frozen shoulders and the symptoms may be more severe in them.

Trauma: Any surgery or arm fracture can often lead to immobility during recovery, and may cause the shoulder capsule to stiffen

People who suffer from prolonged immobility or reduced mobility of the shoulder are also at a greater risk of developing a frozen shoulder. Immobility may be the outcome of different factors that include, a broken arm, rotator cuff injury, stroke, recovery from surgery.


The aim is to increase the motion and decrease the pain and preserve the mobility and flexibility in the shoulder.  The recovery may be slow, and the symptoms of the condition may persist for several years. To decrease the pain, your physician may recommend anti-inflammatory medications. Occasionally, steroid injections for the joint may also be suggested. Physical therapy is usually prescribed to increase motion and flexibility. The physical therapist helps the patient with some home exercises and a stretching program that help in mobility of the shoulder.

 If you are experiencing shoulder pain without any shoulder injury and there is stiffness that is limiting your range of motion for a long period of time, you need to contact your doctor for evaluation. Early treatment along with physical therapy can help you overcome the complications and will lead to a quicker recovery. 

About The Doctor

Dr. A.B. Suhas Masilamani is a Consultant Robotic Joint Replacement Surgeon and Program Director of Sunshine OrthRobotics at Sunshine Hospitals, Hyderabad. He is one of the best orthopedic surgeons trained in New York, USA, and obtained fellowships in adult hip and knee replacement and robotic surgery. He is also one of the few certified trainers in India for Robotic Joint Replacement. 

 Dr. Suhas practices all the modern techniques in Orthopedics, like robotic joint replacement, minimally invasive techniques for total knee and total hip replacement, Unicondylar knee replacement, and patella-femoral replacement. He is one of the very few surgeons from the city to become a member of the American Academy of Hip and Knee Surgeons (AAHKS). He is also a member of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) and the International Congress for Joint Replacement (ICJR).