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What is Frozen Shoulder?

Frozen shoulder, also called adhesive capsulitis, is a condition in which you experience pain and stiffness in your shoulder. The symptoms appear slowly, worsen gradually and usually between 12 – 24 months to resolve.


The shoulder joint is comprised of bones, tendons, and ligaments that are encased in a capsule of connective tissue. Gradual thickening and tightening of this capsule surrounding the shoulder joint restrict shoulder movement causing a frozen shoulder. It is unclear why this happens, but it is sometimes associated with diabetes or a long period of immobilisation following an arm fracture or shoulder surgery. Women and those over the age of 40 have a higher risk of developing a frozen shoulder.


Frozen shoulder is diagnosed following examination to look at your pattern of pain and the limited amount of movement in the shoulder. In a frozen shoulder, both the active and passive mobility are reduced, though strength may remain quite good. Sometimes a scan is recommended to look at the possible other diagnoses that can cause pain and limited movement in the shoulder.

Signs and Symptoms

The signs and symptoms of frozen shoulder develop gradually in three stages with each stage lasting for several months.

  • The first stage is the “freezing” stage during which pain occurs with any shoulder movement and the range of motion of the shoulder gradually becomes limited. Pain may worsen at night disrupting sleep.
  • Next is the “frozen” stage where the pain subsides but your shoulder stiffens up and cannot function properly.
  • The final stage is the “thawing” stage during which shoulder movement begins to gradually improve.


The various physiotherapy treatments used for frozen shoulder include:

  • Pain-relieving medications
  • Physiotherapy exercises for maintenance of mobility and strength, as well as to improve comfort
  • Acupuncture

When things are not improving appropriately, or when pain is significant, it is sometimes recommended that people might consider having an injection into the shoulder to help improve the movement and reduce the pain. Very occasionally, surgery may be recommended to remove any build up of scar tissue in the joint.

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