What is Frozen Shoulder & How to Diagnose? – Everything You Should Know About It

Frozen shoulder is a condition that causes severe pain and stiffness in the shoulder joint. Medically called adhesive capsulitis, the pain caused by this can get worsen with time before it finally goes away. Your shoulder might even pain for more than a year. This condition mostly stays from 6 months to 1 year, in different patients. In rare cases, the shoulder never heals and stays frozen for life. Basically, your shoulder is made up of three bones that form a ball-and-socket joint. They are your upper arm (humerus), shoulder blade (scapula), and collarbone (clavicle). Around these bones, there is a tissue that holds the shoulder together. It is known as the shoulder capsule. When the person has a frozen shoulder, there is a tightness of the capsule in your shoulder. The capsule becomes very hard and tight, making the movement difficult. Onlymyhealth editorial team spoke to Dr. Manu Bora, Consultant Orthopaedics, Artemis Hospitals, Gurgaon about the symptoms, causes, stages, risk factors, diagnosis and treatment for frozen shoulder. Hence, read on to know more about it.
Frozen shoulder symptoms

The major noticeable symptoms of a frozen shoulder are pain and stiffness that totally block your shoulder movement. If you have frozen shoulder, you might even feel a dull and mild pain for the whole day. Not just the shoulder, you might also feel the pain in the muscles around it, especially upper arm area. The nights are even more difficult in this condition. Your pain can get worse at night, which also causes sleeplessness. The movement is difficult, but if you try to move your shoulder, it might cause severe pain. So, there are not many frozen shoulder symptoms except pain and stiffness.
Frozen shoulder stages

Shoulder pain

Just like any other health condition, frozen shoulder pain also involves a particular time period and stages. Here are the 3 main stages of frozen shoulder:

1. Stage 1: In the first stage, the pain gradually gets worse with time and hurts more at night. The period of stage one differs from 6 to 9 months, varying in every patient.

2. Stage 2: In this stage, you might recover from the pain, but the shoulder gets more stiff. The movement becomes even more difficult and it becomes tough to handle day to day routine activities. This stage can last 4-12 months.

3. Stage 3: The last stage is also called the recovery stage. Your range of motion starts getting back to normal after a long period of time. Even this process takes around 6 months to 2 years.

What are the Causes of Frozen shoulder?

There is no definite cause behind a frozen shoulder. The restricted capsule makes the movement very difficult. As per Dr. Manu, frozen shoulder is more common in people more than 40 years of age and is not gender specific. Even the doctors are not sure about the reason behind having frozen shoulder, but is more likely to happen in people with diabetes. Moreover, frozen shoulder can also occur after having a surgery, stroke or a shoulder and arm fracture. One should keep the shoulder in motion, as inactivity can make the stiffness worse. However, you should surely talk to the doctor about movement and exercises post a shoulder injury or after getting a surgery done.

What are the Risk Factors of Frozen shoulder?

Frozen shoulder is not linked to many diseases but is a greater risk for people suffering from diabetes. Moreover, it is also a huge risk if you are in the recovery period from any medical procedure than involves arm movement like stroke. According to a study, around 10-20% diabetic patients suffer from the condition of frozen shoulder. Other medical issues such as heart disease, thyroid and Parkinson’s disease are also connected to frozen shoulder. Therefore, it is important for a diabetic to keep the blood sugar controlled in order to avoid a frozen shoulder. Diabetics should also keep their shoulders in motion with regular exercise.
Frozen shoulder diagnosis.

For frozen shoulder diagnosis, your doctor will give you a physical exam. By moving your shoulder, the medical professional checks the intensity of pain. Firstly, he will let you move the arm on your own, to observe the range of motion. Then, he will move it for you to note the differences. Your doctor may give an injection or pain killers for severe pain relief. A physical exam is more than enough to diagnose frozen shoulder, but your doctor may also conduct imaging tests like X-rays, ultrasound and MRI to rule out any other medical condition such as arthritis or a torn rotator cuff that has similar symptoms like frozen shoulder.

What are the Treatment options of Frozen shoulder?

Along with range of motion exercises, frozen shoulder treatment includes numbing medicines and pain relief injections in the joint capsule. It might give short term relaxation in the inflammation and pain in the patient’s shoulder. In fact, in very rare cases, people suffering from frozen shoulder go for arthroscopic surgery that may help in loosening the joint capsule so that it can move more freely. Frozen shoulder does not recur in the same shoulder, but may occur in the opposite shoulder in some patients. You should contact your doctor for further medical treatment if you experience frozen shoulder symptoms. According to Dr. Manu, range of motion exercises are done to recover from frozen shoulder. There are some simple exercises that one should do to recover from frozen shoulder. You can also take the help of a physiotherapist in doing so. Here are some exercises for frozen shoulder patients:

1. The rod

In this exercise, you can hold a straight iron rod, one end from the left hand and the other end from your right hand. Then, try stretching and moving the rod from left to right direction, so that your shoulder and arm comes in motion.

2. Finger walk

Another exercise that can help with a frozen shoulder is finger walk. Firstly, stand in front of a wall, that is neither too close, nor too far. Then, move your fingers slowly up and down on the wall from the affected arm, involving the movement of your shoulder. Try raising and stretching your arm as much as you can. This will open up the shoulder muscles. Perform this exercise atleast twice or thrice a day for improvement.

3. Closed elbow stretch

Closed elbow stretch is a very helpful exercise for frozen shoulder. In this, you will require the help of a physiotherapist or any family member or friend. Fold the elbow of your frozen shoulder arm, and place the hand on your head. Then, let someone else put pressure in moving the arm upwards. Try controlling the pain by letting it go higher. This will also help in opening up the muscles and increasing movement.


You can also try other range of motion exercises like cross body reach, towel stretch and pendulum stretch. For some exercises, you can also use a stretching band for movement. So, these were the symptoms, causes, risk factors, stages, diagnosis and treatment for frozen shoulder. Along with these exercises, hot water bag and a warm bath can also help in reducing the pain and swelling in your shoulder. And, if you are also experiencing limited shoulder motion and pain, then visit a physiotherapist or orthopaedic for appropriate treatment and care.

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