Woman at desk holding shoulder in pain

Frozen Shoulder: Frequently Asked Questions

The exact causes of frozen shoulder are not fully understood although certain factors appear to increase your risk of developing the condition. Also called adhesive capsulitis, frozen shoulder is characterised by pain and stiffness in the shoulder that worsens over time. It is due to the capsule around your shoulder joint (the connective tissues surrounding the bones, tendons and ligaments) becoming thick and tight, restricting the normal movement of your shoulder.

Here are some of the questions we get asked most frequently about frozen shoulder…


What does a frozen shoulder feel like?

Frozen shoulder can be very painful, especially in the first 6 months and even beyond. As the condition worsens it may be difficult or impossible to move the affected shoulder, which becomes increasingly stiff. To begin with you may experience a dull ache in the affected shoulder, becoming increasingly severe as the condition develops. The site of the pain is variable often hard to pinpoint, adding to the frustration. The pain often tends to be worse at night which can cause sleep problems.

There are three described phases to a frozen shoulder, although there can be significant overlap between the first two:

  • The freezing stage, which is when the pain slowly intensifies.
  • The frozen stage, which is when the pain may improve but your shoulder becomes increasingly stiff.
  • The thawing stage, which is when the range of motion in your shoulder slowly returns.

Will it get better by itself?

A frozen shoulder normally improves by itself but this can take up to three years in some cases, and often doesn’t completely resolve. The freezing stage, described above, can last between 6 and 9 months, the frozen stage between 4 and 12 months and the thawing stage from 6 months to 2 years. There are treatments you can have in the meantime to help relieve the symptoms and speed your recovery.


What causes frozen shoulder?

Although the causes are not completely clear, some people are at greater risk of developing a frozen shoulder than others. Doctors believe that an inflammation in the shoulder caused by an injury, overuse, a mild infection or, more apparent recently, a vaccine dose becomes uncontrollable in some people. It is more common in women than men and those aged between 40 and 60 are at greatest risk. People who are recovering from surgery that restricts the movement of their arm (such surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff or arm fracture) can also develop a frozen shoulder, as well as those recovering from a stroke or breast cancer treatment. Diabetes also increases the chances of the condition, along with other systemic diseases such as  thyroid disease.


Do I need to have surgery for frozen shoulder?

Surgery is sometimes recommend to treat a frozen shoulder unless other, more conservative approaches have failed. If you do need surgery, it is normally performed during the frozen phase of the condition and the surgeon will generally use arthroscopy (keyhole surgery), making small incisions around the shoulder joint and inserting an arthroscope (a thin, pencil-sized instrument). The aim is to stretch and release the stiffened joint capsule, breaking down scar tissue.


Are there other treatments for frozen shoulder?

Surgery is sometimes recommend to treat a frozen shoulder unless other, more conservative approaches have failed. If you do need surgery, it is normally performed during the frozen phase of the condition and the surgeon will generally use arthroscopy (keyhole surgery), making small incisions around the shoulder joint and inserting an arthroscope (a thin, pencil-sized instrument). The aim is to stretch and release the stiffened joint capsule, breaking down scar tissue.

If you believe you may have a frozen shoulder and would like to discuss a diagnosis or treatment options, please contact us and we would be happy to help.


Orthopaedic Consultant & Surgeon | London

Thames Shoulder & Elbow are able to provide advice and support to anyone experiencing symptoms affecting the upper limbs (shoulder, upper arm, elbow, forearm and wrist).

Telephone: 020 376 15987

Email: admin@thamesshoulderandelbow.co.uk

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