Frozen Shoulder - Causes, Symptoms, Treatment

Frozen Shoulder Syndrome – What You Need to Know

Reaching for the remote is something you probably don’t think twice about. As a healthy and active adult, this everyday task is seemingly effortless. Unfortunately, for patients with intense shoulder pain, even basic movement can feel impossible.

Dr. Brandon Steen specializes in evaluating and treating shoulder injuries. In this post Dr. Steen reviews the causes, symptoms and treatment for frozen shoulder, a relatively common condition he sees in clinic.

What is Frozen Shoulder Syndrome?

Frozen shoulder syndrome, also known as adhesive capsulitis, is a condition characterized by stiffness and pain in your shoulder joint. Signs and symptoms typically begin gradually, worsen over time and gets better, although full recover may take 12 to 18 months.


The bones, ligaments and tendons that make up your shoulder joint are encased in a capsule of connective tissue. Frozen shoulder occurs when the smooth tissues of the shoulder capsule become thick, stiff and inflamed, restricting its movement.

Doctors aren’t sure why this happens to some people, although it’s more likely to occur in people who have diabetes or those who recently had to immobilize their shoulder for a long period, such as after surgery, fracture or other injury.

People between the ages of 40 and 60, and women more often than men, are more likely to have frozen shoulder.


Pain from frozen shoulder is usually dull or aching. It is typically worse early in the course of the disease and when you move your arm. The pain is usually located over the outer shoulder area and sometimes the upper arm.

Frozen shoulder typically develops slowly, and in three stages.

  • Stage 1: Freezing – In the freezing stage, any movement of your shoulder causes pain, and your shoulder’s range of motion starts to become limited. Freezing typically lasts from 4 to 6 months.
  • Stage 2: Frozen – Pain may improve during this stage. However, your shoulder becomes stiffer, and daily use becomes more difficult. This stage may last 4 to 6 months.
  • Stage 3: Thawing – The range of motion in your shoulder begins to improve. Complete return to normal strength and motion can take 6 months to 1 year.


Treatment for frozen shoulder involves range-of-motion exercises (under supervision of a physical therapist or via an at home program) and, sometimes, cortisone injections into the joint capsule. In a small percentage of cases, arthroscopic surgery may be indicated to loosen the joint capsule so that it can move more freely.