What is frozen shoulder ?

A frozen shoulder or adhesive capsulitis is a chronic and painful condition affecting the shoulder joint.


The shoulder is a ball and socket joint with the humerus (upper arm) articulating with a socket in the scapula (shoulder blade). The deep soft tissue structures (capsule and ligaments) surrounding the shoulder joint develop scar tissue which tightens and thickens the capsule. It is most common in people between 40 to 60 and occurs more commonly in women.

Frozen shoulder symptoms

Many people with shoulder pain mistakenly think that they have frozen shoulder. The frozen sholder comes with symptoms that typically follow a pattern. The most common complaint of a frozen shoulder is a persistently painful and stiff shoulder joint. Symptoms develop gradually and occur in three stages.

First stage of frozen shoulder – Painful stage

Shoulder becomes very painful and stiff. Range of motion is progressively reduced in all directions and feels worse at night. Strength and function is reduced due to pain.

Second stage of frozen shoulder – Frozen or adhesive stage

Shoulder becomes extremely stiff limiting range of motion in all directions severely. Pain may or may not reduce but does not increase. Strength and function is reduced due to pain.

Third Stage of frozen shoulder – Thawing stage

The shoulder starts to loosen up increasing range of motion. Pain decreases but can be persistent or reoccurring.

Everyday activities that will be affected by all 3 frozen shoulder stages include:

  • Unable to reach above shoulder height
  • Unable to perform quick movements of the arm
  • Difficulty with clasping or unclasping bra
  • Unable to sleep on your side
  • Difficulty reaching out to the side or behind your back

Frozen shoulder causes

The cause of a frozen shoulder has not been fully understood and it is still debated why the ligamentous capsule stiffens up. Several risk factors may increase the likelihood of causing frozen shoulder. The most common risk factor is having a previous shoulder condition where the mobility was affected such as through a fracture, rotator cuff injury or sprain.

Other risk factors of frozen shoulder can include:

  • Age over 40
  • Female – 70% of cases are women
  • Diabetic – you are 2 – 4 times more likely to suffer from a frozen shoulder. The symptoms may be more severe.
  • Previous history of frozen shoulder. 1 in 5 people who have frozen houlder in the past will also develop it on the opposite side in the future.
  • Thyroid disorders
  • Autoimmune disorder
  • General immobility

Frozen shoulder Treatment

Treatment options for a frozen shoulder can be:

  • Physical Therapy
  • Exercise
  • Painkillers
  • Hot and cold pack
  • Cortisone injections
  • Shoulder manipulation under anaesthetic
  • Shoulder arthroscopy to remove scar tissue or adhesions

At Fort Healthcare, frozen shoulder is commonly treated. Fort Healthcare offers a Premium Care Plan to treat frozen shoulder and it includes:

  • Consultation with our multi-disciplinary specialist team
  • Techniques to reduce inflammation, swelling and scar tissue adhesions
  • Improve strength
  • Improve range of motion (ROM)
  • Self-management: take home exercise plans and rehabilitation training advice

Frozen shoulder Recovery time

The recovery time for shoulders can vary depending on the severity of the condition and the presence of risk factors. It can take up to two years for the condition to resolve by itself.

Getting physical treatment can help to reduce the time and severity of each stage of frozen shoulder. Early intervention is important for any shoulder condition and can help to limit the disability and quicken the recovery process. If you are experiencing pain, discomfort or shoulder stiffness, it is recommended to seek professional advice as soon as possible.