What are the Symptoms of Frozen Shoulder?

Kathy Heydasch

Frozen shoulder is a condition in which the shoulder joint becomes inflamed, causing pain when the arm and shoulder are moved. This pain leads to decreased movement, which in turn exacerbates the problem. Eventually, a person cannot raise his or her arm above a certain point. Frozen shoulder is the result of increased inflammation, and symptoms of frozen shoulder include pain, stiffness and swelling of the joint area.

An arm sling may help treat frozen shoulder syndrome.
An arm sling may help treat frozen shoulder syndrome.

The joint of the shoulder is called a capsule, and the shoulder bones attach to each other through ligaments. When the shoulder capsule is inflamed, the bones cannot move freely without pain in the shoulder. Once the pain begins to limit mobility in a person, the condition worsens and eventually becomes what is known as frozen shoulder.

Chronic shoulder pain and decreased mobility may be symptoms of frozen shoulder syndrome.
Chronic shoulder pain and decreased mobility may be symptoms of frozen shoulder syndrome.

Symptoms of frozen shoulder can last up to three years or more, which can be greatly frustrating to those suffering from shoulder pain and stiffness. Even with intense therapy and treatment, recovery is still slow and painful. During recovery, patients can suffer from lack of sleep, as most positions are uncomfortable. This might result in additional symptoms of frozen shoulder, such as neck or back pain and headaches. In addition, the added stress from the suffering can cause a host of other problems.

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There is no exact cause for the symptoms of frozen shoulder, except a lack of mobility or some kind of trauma to the shoulder area. A person may be more prone to frozen shoulder if their arm has recently been in a sling or a cast. Once chronic stiffness and pain are noted in one or both shoulders, the onset of frozen shoulder becomes a risk. Patients should take aggressive steps to increase mobility and treat the condition.

Initial treatment of symptoms of frozen shoulder is over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medicine such as ibuprofen and daily exercises or physical therapy. If the symptoms persist, a doctor might diagnose a corticosteroid to reduce the inflammation and/or a numbing drug to increase mobility. He might also suggest more intense or more frequent physical therapy. In the most severe, but rare, cases of frozen shoulder, a doctor might perform surgery to loosen the shoulder capsule. Arthroscopic surgery can cut away scar tissue that may have formed as a result of prolonged inflammation.

Frozen shoulder is also known as adhesive capulitis, and usually does not manifest itself in a person younger than age 40. There are some risk factors associated with frozen shoulder, and those include accidents, connective tissue disorders, and heart conditions. Daily exercise is recommended for those with frozen shoulder.

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