Frozen shoulder syndrome, known medically as adhesive capsulitis, is a medical condition that is often characterized by pain and stiffness in the shoulder joint. These symptoms tend to develop slowly before becoming severe and potentially debilitating. The symptoms may then disappear on their own, although the entire process often takes about two years. Patients who have had surgery on the arm or shoulder or have had to use an arm sling for a prolonged period of time are at the greatest risk of developing frozen shoulder syndrome. Treatment often involves a combination of physical therapy and prescriptions medications, although surgical intervention is sometimes necessary.
There are three primary stages of frozen shoulder syndrome, commonly referred to as the painful stage, the frozen stage, and the thawing stage. Each stage typically lasts for several months. The symptoms change according to each individual stage of the condition.
The first stage of frozen shoulder syndrome is known as the painful stage. During this stage, range of motion becomes limited, making it difficult to move the shoulder and the associated arm. This stage can also cause moderate to severe pain. This pain is sometimes more severe at night, making it difficult to find a comfortable enough position to get adequate amounts of sleep.
The next stage of frozen shoulder syndrome is called the frozen stage. While the pain levels may begin to diminish during this stage, the amount of stiffness tends to increase. Range of motions also decreases remarkably during this stage. Many people have great difficulty using the affected arm and performing normal daily tasks during this stage. Some patients may have to stop working if range of motion is severely compromised.
The final stage of frozen shoulder syndrome is referred to as the thawing stage. Range of motion begins to slowly increase during this stage, making many daily tasks more manageable. Pain levels may begin to decrease during this stage as well.
Physical therapy is often helpful in maintaining increased range of motion in a person suffering from frozen shoulder syndrome. In many cases, this type of exercise therapy is combined with the use of medications such as cortisone injections. Oral pain medications may also be prescribed. If these methods of treatment are not successful, surgical intervention may become necessary in order to restore an acceptable quality of life and to ensure that the patient is able to function as normally as possible.