Frozen Shoulder (Adhesive Capsulitis)

Frozen shoulder, known as adhesive capsulitis, results in the loss of passive and active motion of the shoulder socket (glenohumeral joint).


Frozen shoulder is the stiffening of your shoulder. It happens over time, and you may not know what caused it. With a frozen shoulder, it can be hard for you to be as active as you like.


We don't fully understand this condition. It's a problem with the shoulder's joint capsule. That's a membrane that surrounds the joint. With frozen shoulder, this membrane thickens. Bands of tissue we call "adhesions" develop. Frozen shoulder may be linked to swelling. It can develop after an injury. It can happen after surgery, or after your shoulder is immobilized for a period of time. And it may be linked to diabetes and to other diseases. The loss of motion is due to chronic inflammation that leads to the stiffening of the soft connective tissue around the shoulder. A frozen shoulder with no known cause is labeled “primary”, but a “secondary” frozen shoulder (secondary adhesive capsulitis) can result after surgical procedures or trauma to the shoulder.


Frozen shoulder is most often a problem for older people. It starts slowly with a mild pain. Over a few months, the pain gets worse. It can be hard for you to sleep. You begin to have trouble lifting your arm, or moving it backwards. With time, pain can lessen, but your shoulder may become so stiff that you can barely move it. 


A frozen shoulder will usually get better on its own, even without any treatment. However, this can take up to three years. You may benefit from treatment options such as medications, injections and physical therapy. A frozen shoulder has several stages from pain with motion, loss of motion and pain at night, and then significant stiffness with minimal night pain. Anti-inflammatory drugs (like aspirin or ibuprofen) and corticosteroid injections can help treat the inflammation and pain associated with the beginning phases of a frozen shoulder. Aggressive therapy and movements to regain full range of motion with the shoulder will help relieve the stiffness. Surgery can help, too. Your healthcare provider can create a plan that's right for you.

At The Shoulder Center at Andrews Sports Medicine, our fellowship-trained non-surgical physicians and orthopaedic surgeons provide the most-advanced, comprehensive treatment solutions for injuries and disorders of the shoulder. To schedule an appointment, call (205) 939-3699.

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