Adhesive Capsulitis and Diabetes

Diabetes and Frozen Shoulder

Patient describing pain to nurse at laptop
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Adhesive capsulitis, also known as "frozen shoulder" is a condition where the shoulder joint gradually loses mobility over a period of time, until the joint becomes immobile or "frozen." It is often very painful at first. Eventually, the condition can reverse itself but it can take 2 or 3 years for that to happen. Adhesive capsulitis is more prevalent in people who have diabetes.

What Are the Symptoms of Adhesive Capsulitis?

Often the first symptom is a pain when moving the arm and shoulder. Eventually, there is a gradual loss of range of motion in one or both shoulders.

How Does a Shoulder Become Frozen?

The shoulder joint capsule actually adheres (or sticks) to the head of the humerus bone. The humerus is the long bone that extends from your shoulder to your elbow (aka funny bone). The joint capsule is a protective sleeve of connective tissue that surrounds the joint.

I Have Diabetes. What Is My Risk of Developing a Frozen Shoulder?

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), people with diabetes have an increased risk of developing adhesive capsulitis. Excess glucose can adhere to the cells, damaging the connective tissue which makes up the joints. Other conditions that can put you at risk include autoimmune or endocrine disorders, open heart surgery or upper spine disk diseases.

What Are the Stages of Adhesive Capsulitis?

  • Pain in one or both shoulders
  • Inability to fully move shoulder joint
  • Gradual improvement of joint mobility. Usually, adhesive capsulitis resolves on its own within 1 to 3 years.

Treatments for Adhesive Capsulitis

  • NSAIDS - nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin, naproxen or ibuprofen
  • Injected corticosteroids into affected shoulder joints
  • Physical therapy
  • Surgery is sometimes used to free the joint

Prevention of Adhesive Capsulitis

Since people with diabetes are at higher risk of adhesive capsulitis, they can help prevent the condition by making sure that blood glucose levels are as close to normal as possible. Regular exercise such as yoga, tai chi or other exercises that provide motion for the shoulder joints can also keep the joints strong and flexible.

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Article Sources

  • Frozen Shoulder. AAOS - American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons 
  • Frozen Shoulder. UPMC Sports Medicine