What’s freezing up your shoulder?

There are many types of shoulder conditions, but one in particular can creep up on you without you remembering having hurt it. This condition is called Adhesive Capsulitis, or more commonly known as Frozen Shoulder.

What is a Frozen Shoulder?

Frozen shoulder is a condition where the shoulder joint becomes stiff and painful, often with no known cause. It usually comes on gradually, worsens over time, and then eventually resolves.


There are 3 stages in the development of a frozen shoulder which can take up to 2 years or more to complete.

Stage 1 – Freezing stage: During this stage, the affected shoulder gradually becomes more painful and starts to lose mobility. This stage can last from 6 weeks to 9 months.

Stage 2 – Frozen stage: Shoulder pain and stiffness is significantly noticeable during this stage. Daily tasks can be difficult to perform, and sleep disturbance is common as the pain is worse at night. This stage can last from 4 to 9 months.

Stage 3 – Thawing stage: The shoulder is not usually painful during this stage. The stiffness decreases as the shoulder starts to “thaw” out. This stage usually last between 5 months and 2 years.

How do you get a Frozen Shoulder?

The cause of frozen shoulder is poorly understood. It is thought that the joint capsule, the lining around the shoulder joint, becomes inflamed in a frozen shoulder. This inflammation causes adhesions and scarring to form within the capsule, resulting in pain and movement restriction. There is also a lack of fluid in the joint, further reducing joint mobility.

Research indicates that sometimes a frozen shoulder can develop after a trauma or injury to the shoulder. However, in many cases, there is no known cause. Apart from trauma, some other risk factors have been linked to frozen shoulder, including:

  • Age and gender – frozen shoulder tends to affect people between the ages of 40 and 60 years old. It is also much more common in women than men
  • Diabetes – diabetic people are more likely to develop a frozen shoulder, as well as take longer to recover due to poor blood circulation
  • Other systemic diseases – heart disease and Parkinson’s disease are some examples of systemic diseases linked to developing a frozen shoulder.

How can I tell if I have a frozen shoulder?

Frozen shoulder is usually diagnosed by signs and symptoms which are assessed by a docotr or physiotherapist. People who have a frozen shoulder often complain of:

  • Gradual worsening shoulder pain with no known cause
  • Aching pain on top of the shoulder and often shooting into the upper arm
  • Movement restriction without a loss of strength
  • Inability to sleep on the affected shoulder and sleep disturbance when rolling on to it
  • Difficulty with grooming and dressing as the condition progresses

A doctor or physiotherapist will also assess your movement and palpate the joint help confirm the diagnosis and rule out other shoulder conditions.

For treatment options of frozen shoulder, read our follow-up article on this topic, "Thawing Frozen Shoulders".


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