What Is Frozen Shoulder and How Can You Prevent It?

October 7, 2020

Clinical Contributors to this Story

Craig Van Dien, M.D. contributes to topics such as Physical Rehabilitation.

Pain that makes you hesitate to use your shoulder may be a sign of a condition known as frozen shoulder.

Because the condition restricts shoulder range of motion, you may notice difficulties with everyday activities, particularly those that require you to reach with your arm.

Healing from a frozen shoulder takes time, but the symptoms can be manageable with doctor assistance. That is where Craig Van Dien, M.D., a board certified sports medicine and physical medicine and rehabilitation (PM&R) physician at JFK Johnson Rehabilitation Institute comes in.

Common causes of frozen shoulder

Not all patients will have a clear reason for why they develop frozen shoulder. One’s risk, however, can increase with certain medical conditions. In addition, frozen shoulder can develop after shoulder injury or surgery.

According to Dr. Van Dien, frozen shoulder is more commonly found among:

  • Adults older than 40
  • Women
  • People with certain medical conditions such as diabetes or stroke patients
  • People with rotator cuff disorders and shoulder injuries (such as a fracture)
  • People who underwent shoulder surgery

Symptoms of frozen shoulder

“The hallmark of frozen shoulder is pain and reduced shoulder motion,” says Dr. Van Dien. “As time progresses, the shoulder motion may become more restricted, limiting your ability to perform daily activities.”

There are three distinct stages of frozen shoulder, each of which has its own set of symptoms:

  1. During the “freezing” stage, intense pain keeps you from using your shoulder much, and the lack of usage reduces your range of motion.
  2. During the “frozen” stage, you may not feel as much pain as before, but you may lose more range of motion, making it hard to do many tasks.
  3. During the “thawing” stage, the range of motion gradually returns to your shoulder joint, and any remaining pain should fade.

When to see a doctor about frozen shoulder

If your shoulder hurts and you’re beginning to lose range of motion, it’s important to talk to your doctor.

A physician can often diagnose the condition with a physical exam alone. However, an X-ray may be ordered to assess for other underlying shoulder conditions. Treatment plans focus on pain reduction and restoration of shoulder function. This may include anti-inflammatory medications, steroid injections and physical therapy.

How to prevent frozen shoulder

If you’ve had a shoulder injury, early exercise focusing on range of motion may reduce the risk for developing frozen shoulder. This should be done under the instruction of your treating physician, so schedule an examination soon after the injury to address your concerns

Next Steps & Resources

The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care