What is Frozen Shoulder? | Causes, Symptoms & Treatment | IMPACT Physical Therapy

What is Frozen Shoulder?

Woman holding injured shoulder

What is frozen shoulder? Also called adhesive capsulitis, frozen shoulder is a condition characterized by pain, stiffness, and reduced range of motion in the shoulder. Frozen shoulder symptoms tend to start gradually and then worsen over time—but with the proper treatment, symptoms can improve, typically over a period of 1 to 3 years.

Frozen shoulder causes aren’t fully understood, but the condition is more likely to occur after surgery or in people with certain medical conditions, like hypothyroidism. Your frozen shoulder treatment plan will be determined by the severity of your symptoms—for instance, you may require a corticosteroid injection or numbing medications before beginning range-of-motion shoulder exercises.

Frozen Shoulder Symptoms & Stages

Freezing Stage (2-9 months)

What is frozen shoulder like at the very beginning? It’s not always easy to know that you have it, but small movements may cause shoulder pain and you may notice a reduced range of motion. At this stage, symptoms develop gradually over a period of 2 to 9 months.

Frozen Stage (4-12 months)

At this stage, you may actually feel less pain. This is because the capsule of connective tissue around the shoulder joint is thickening, restricting the shoulder’s movement. You may find it more difficult to use your shoulder due to stiffness, almost as if your movement feels frozen. The frozen stage usually lasts between 4 and 12 months.

Thawing Stage (5-24 months)

The final stage begins when you enter treatment for your frozen shoulder symptoms, and begin to regain your range of motion. For most patients, this stage lasts from 5 to 24 months.

Frozen Shoulder Causes: What We Know

Although the causes of adhesive capsulitis aren’t completely clear, we do know that certain risk factors make it more likely. You are more likely to develop frozen shoulder if:

  • You’ve experienced a period of restricted shoulder movement following a rotator cuff injury, broken arm, or a stroke.
  • You didn’t do physical therapy or exercise therapy after tendinitis or an injury.
  • You wore an arm sling for more than several days without intermittent stretching.

How to Fix Frozen Shoulder

Physical therapy is the most effective tool for long-term frozen shoulder treatment—but the process can take quite a bit of time. 

  1. First, your physical therapist will assess your current range of motion and pain level and then decide on a course of treatment. 
  2. You may require anti-inflammatory medication and/or a corticosteroid injection to prepare your shoulder for stretches and exercises.
  3. Your physical therapist will provide a personalized course of frozen shoulder treatment that responds to your progress. 
  4. As your symptoms improve, you will transition to performing the assigned exercises and stretches at home, until you are able to resume your usual activities. 

Learn More About Frozen Shoulder Treatment

Find out how you can reduce and relieve your frozen shoulder symptoms with physical therapy today! Request a consultation at one of our Chicagoland facilities or our location in Champaign-Urbana to get started.