What Is Frozen Shoulder

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By Dr. Stefanie Yao
Published on July 17, 2013

Frozen shoulderWhat is A Frozen Shoulder (Adhesive Capsulitis)?

Frozen Shoulder, also known as Adhesive Capsulitis, is a common source of shoulder pain which tends to affect adults between the ages of 40 – 60 years and typically occurs more often in females than males. Frozen shoulder pain should not be confused with that of a rotator cuff injury. Frozen shoulder tends to have distinct symptom patterns such as constant pain that tends to affect sleep and sharp pain that may occur with movement. In addition there is also a loss of function and movement especially in external rotation of the shoulder.

The shoulder joint is made up of three bones: the scapula (shoulder blade), the humerus (upper arm bone) and the clavicle (collar bone). The shoulder joint is a ball and socket joint in which the shoulder blade gives rise to the socket of the shoulder, while the ball arises from the top of the humerus (upper arm bone). Surrounding the ball and socket joint are strong connective tissues and ligaments holding the bones together, which make up the shoulder joint capsule.

Frozen shoulder tends to affect the shoulder joint capsule, which is thought to become inflamed which then causes tightening and scarring of the shoulder joint capsule. When this occurs the condition is known as frozen shoulder and usually results in a marked loss of shoulder range of movement.

There are two classifications of frozen shoulder syndromes:

Primary or idiopathic frozen shoulder – No significant reason for the pain and or stiffness

Secondary frozen shoulder – Typically a result of an event such as trauma, surgery or illness

Frozen Shoulder Causes

The cause or causes of either primary adhesive capsulitis remains largely a mystery, though there are some factors that can put one at a higher risk for adhesive capsulitis such as history of diabetes, hormonal changes, thyroid dysfunction, autoimmune diseases or history of recent shoulder injury or surgery. In addition those who have had a heart attack, stroke or who have been treated for breast cancer are also at an increased risk. But a significant number of people develop adhesive capsulitis without any known trauma or medical history or risk factors.

In the case of secondary adhesive capsulitis it can typically present due to an associated issue such as shoulder surgery or injury such as a subacrominal impingement or rotator cuff tear that leads to the immobility of the shoulder joint over a period of time.

Stay Tuned for Part II!