Adhesive Capsulitis, also known as Frozen shoulder, causes stiffness and pain in the shoulder joint. Signs and symptoms typically start small and gradually worsen over time and then resolve themselves, usually within one to three years.

The risk of developing a frozen shoulder increases if you have recently recovered from a medical condition or procedure that prevents you from moving the arm — such as a stroke or a mastectomy.

Treatment for a frozen shoulder usually involves performing range-of-motion exercises and sometimes corticosteroid injections and numbing medications injected into the joint capsule. In a small percentage of cases, shoulder specialists may recommend arthroscopic surgery to loosen the joint capsule so that it can move freely.

While unusual for frozen shoulders to recur in the same shoulder, some people may still develop it in the opposite shoulder.

Symptoms of a Frozen Shoulder

A Frozen shoulder will typically develop slowly, over the course of three stages. Each stage may last a number of months.

  • The Freezing stage. Moving of the shoulder will cause pain, and the shoulder’s range of motion starts to shrink.
  • The Frozen stage. Pain may diminish during this stage. However, the shoulder will feel much stiffer, and much more difficult to move.
  • The Thawing stage. The range of motion in the shoulder will slowly improve.

For some people, the pain worsens at night, making it difficult to sleep.

Causes of a Frozen Shoulder

The bones, ligaments and tendons that make up the shoulder joint, sit inside a protective capsule of connective tissue. Frozen shoulder occurs when this capsule thickens and tightens around the shoulder joint, restricting its movement.

Doctors find cases of Adhesive Capsulitis tend to occur more often in people who have diabetes or those who recently had to immobilize their shoulder for a long period, such as after surgery or an arm fracture.