Frozen Shoulder: What Happens
Strong connective tissue called the shoulder capsule surrounds the ball end of your upper arm bone and holds it to the socket. Frozen shoulder causes this tissue to get thicker and inflamed. This may limit the synovial fluid that normally lubricates the area and prevents rubbing. The result is pain and stiffness. There are three stages.
Frozen Shoulder: Stage 1: Freezing
Over a period of 2 to 9 months, the shoulder capsule gets more and more inflamed. This ramps up pain and stiffness, and starts to limit your range of motion. And these symptoms often get worse at night.
Frozen Shoulder: Stage 2: Frozen
This is when your shoulder is stiffest and hardest to move. It usually lasts somewhere between 4 months and a year. Pain often starts to improve in this stage. But your range of motion may be so limited that you find it hard to do basic things like eat, dress, and go to the bathroom.
Frozen Shoulder: Thawing
Your shoulder pain should continue to ease during this stage, and now you start to regain some of your range of motion, too. It happens slowly, taking 6 months to 2 years. In some cases, you may get back all or almost all of your strength and mobility.
Frozen Shoulder: Who Gets It?
It’s most common if you’re in your 50s or 60s, and rare for anyone under 40. It can get worse as you age. Women get it more than men. And if you get frozen shoulder on one side of your body, you’re up to 30% more likely to get it on the other side.
Frozen Shoulder: Treatments
NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) like aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen may curb pain and swelling. More powerful drugs called steroids are sometimes injected directly into the joint. But it can be tricky to get them into just the right spot, and even these will only provide temporary relief of your symptoms.
Frozen Shoulder: Dilation
Your doctor might suggest this method if physical therapy and medication haven’t helped. She’ll use pictures of the inside of your body to guide a shot of fluid into your shoulder joint. The goal is to stretch out the joint capsule and give you better range of motion.
Frozen Shoulder: Surgery
Your doctor may suggest this, usually in the “frozen” stage, if nothing else works. There are two methods, sometimes used together. The first is manipulation while you’re “asleep” from general anesthesia. The surgeon moves the joint until it stretches or even tears the tissue. The second method, called arthroscopy, cuts the affected tissue directly. Your surgeon works through small cuts in your skin, using special tools.