Pain and stiffness are common complaints in any sports medicine physician’s office. One of the causes of shoulder joint discomfort can be an inflammatory condition called adhesive capsulitis or, more simply, “frozen shoulder.”
Frozen shoulder is the result of a thickened and contracted shoulder capsule. As the tissues around the joint stiffen, scar tissue forms, and shoulder movements become difficult and painful – often with ensuing loss of range of motion.
This condition is often associated with chronic conditions such as diabetes, cervical spondylosis, and hypothyroidism, but it can also occur following a surgery or injury. It is most commonly seen in women. (In fact, actress Teri Hatcher has been receiving a lot of attention in the press recently for her public struggles with the debilitating pain of frozen shoulder.)
The condition usually progresses in 3 stages:
- An inflammatory, painful stage
- A frozen stage, in which there is less pain, but more loss of motion
- A thawing stage, with small improvement over a period of 6 months
Once an accurate diagnosis is made, centers on physical therapy, often treat this condition very effectively with a variety of treatments, including gentle stretching, steroid injections, and anti-inflammatory medicines.
Improvement occurs gradually over time. Surgery either by manipulating the shoulder under anesthesia or an arthroscopic release of adhesions, can be an option in extreme cases when conservative treatment fails after 4 months.