Frozen shoulder? This is how long it can take for recovery

Frozen shoulder develops gradually in three stages and each stage can last for several months. However, recovery is fully achievable. 
Be patient if someone at home has a frozen shoulder.
Be patient if someone at home has a frozen shoulder. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
Dr Gurdeep Singh Updated: 23 Oct 2023, 12:47 pm IST
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A frozen shoulder has nothing to do with ice! It’s simply a stiff and painful shoulder joint, which becomes hard to move. If you or an older member of the family is going through it, you must know about the recovery time and treatment.

The shoulder is made up of three bones which form a ball-and-socket joint consisting of upper arm (humerus), shoulder blade (scapula), and collarbone (clavicle). The tissues surrounding the shoulder joint are called the shoulder capsule.

What is a frozen shoulder?

Frozen shoulder, also known as Adhesive Capsulitis (AC), is a persistent and painful shoulder condition that lasts for more than 3 months. This inflammatory condition causes fibrosis in the glenohumeral joint capsule and is often characterized by gradually progressive stiffness and significant range of motion restriction (typically external rotation).

In case of a frozen shoulder, the shoulder capsule becomes very thick and stiff, hindering the overall movement. Moreover, scar tissue forms in the joint, and there is less lubrication due to lack of synovial fluid to keep it lubricated.

frozen shoulder
Keep exercising to relieve shoulder pain. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

What are the stages of a frozen shoulder?

In most of the cases, recovery is achievable, even though it may take up to 1 to 2 years in some cases. Frozen shoulder develops gradually in three stages and each stage can last for several months.

These include:

  • Freezing: Any movement of the shoulder causes pain, and the range of motion becomes narrow.
  • Frozen: During this stage, pain may begin to subside. However, the shoulder stiffens, and it becomes more difficult to use.
  • Thawing: The shoulder range of motion begins to improve.

Diagnosing a frozen shoulder

Medical history, physical examination, and imaging modalities are used to make the clinical diagnosis of frozen shoulder (ruling out another condition, rather than confirming the diagnosis of AC). Although the etiology of the condition is not yet fully understood, certain risk factors can help in understanding the complication of this condition and enhance the treatment options. These include:

  • Thyroid disorder
  • Type 2 diabetes (with a prevalence up to 20 percent)
  • Stroke
  • Shoulder injury
  • Parkinson disease
  • Complex regional pain syndrome
  • Common conditions that may mimic early adhesive capsulitis:
  • Subacromial pathology and rotator cuff tendinopathy
  • Post-stroke shoulder subluxation
  • Referred discomfort (cervical spine or malignancy, Pancoast tumor)

    Also, read: Swear by these 7 exercises to boost your shoulder mobility

frozen shoulder
If your shoulder seems stuck, try these methods for relief. Image Courtesy: Shutterstock

How to treat a frozen shoulder?

Non-surgical treatment options for Adhesive Capsulitis (AC) include pharmacological management and physiotherapy.

Physiotherapy is very important for pain control and restoration of normal shoulder mobility. In certain rare cases, if there is very little improvement, intervention methods like intra-articular injections, joint manipulation under anesthesia or shoulder arthroscopic surgeries are involved depending upon the medical requirement of the patient.

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About the Author

Dr Gurdeep Singh, Senior Consultant - Orthopaedics and Joint Replacement, Manipal Hospital Gurugram

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