Frozen shoulder syndrome (FSS), medically called adhesive capsulitis, is a condition in which the joint capsule becomes inflamed, making the joint stiff and difficult to move. The condition occurs generally on one side, and can be frustrating to patients due to the constant pain, restricted movement of the shoulder (leading to less use of the arm) and slow recovery time.

A sign of FSS is the joint becomes very tight and stiff, making it difficult to do everyday tasks, such as carrying a bag, putting on clothing or even raising the arm. The condition can be caused from trauma to the area, being immobilized after a surgery, a fracture or conditions such as diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, hyperthyroidism or cardiac disease. Unfortunately, it can also occur in people who do not experience any of the risk factors; the causes are not completely understood. FSS occurs in about 2% of the general population, and most commonly affects people between the ages of 40 and 60 (a majority of which are women).

FSS can be described in three stages, and the symptoms will vary depending on the stage:
Stage 1 – (The ‘painful’ or ‘freezing’ stage) This stage can last anywhere from six weeks to nine months. This is the time when there is a slow onset of pain, which is often worse at night or when laying on the affected side. As the pain worsens, the shoulder will lose motion.

Stage 2 – (The ‘stiffening’ or ‘frozen’ stage) This stage can last from four to six months. During this stage the pain may start to improve, but stiffness will continue to be a problem. Daily activities may become difficult and generally leads to lack of use of that arm.

Stage 3 – (The ‘recovery’ or ‘thawing’ stage) This stage can last between six months and two years. During this stage, the shoulder motion will slowly begin to return to normal. There will be a decrease in pain, although it can still occur as the stiffness eases.

Because the recovery time for FSS can be long and arduous, it is important to take steps whenever possible to prevent the condition from occurring. A few easy steps to help prevent it are:

  • Stretching your shoulder and back muscles daily.
  • Stretching your tendons (by rotating hands and palms to stretch different tendons).
  • Practicing good ergonomics while sitting at a desk and using a computer.
  • Maintaining a healthy immune system.
  • Doing range-of-motion exercises as early as possible after an injury or surgery.
  • IF you have diabetes, it is necessary to monitor it closely.

There is a variety of treatments available, and our doctors will help you determine which is right for you. More than 90% of patients improve with relatively simple treatments to control pain and restore motion. Common treatments consist of:

  • Physical therapy or sports therapy.
  • Oral steroids or anti-inflammatory medicines (i.e., aspirin, ibuprofen) to reduce pain and swelling.
  • Steroid medication injections directly into the joint.
  • Nerve block (short-term pain relief option)
  • Surgery if other options fail. Surgery is followed by aggressive rehabilitation which must be followed closely.

If you think you may be experiencing the symptoms of FSS, it is important to seek medical advice as soon as possible. Early diagnosis through medical exams or imaging tests (such as xays or MRIs) can help ease stiffness if you begin treatment immediately. The doctors at Orthopaedic Associates of Michigan have extensive experience and knowledge working with patients who suffer from FSS. We will help you determine the best treatment to become pain free and regain full use of your shoulder and arm.

Contact us today for an appointment at 616-459-7101.

Sources: AAOS, Frozen Shoulder Syndrome, Dr. Ben Kim, How to Prevent a Frozen Shoulder,