Frozen Shoulder Causes and Treatments

Frozen shoulder is a common cause of restricted mobility of the shoulder joint. It is often characterized by severe shoulder pain—even with simple activities.

A woman suffering from shoulder pain

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Frozen shoulder often starts with a gradual onset of shoulder discomfort and stiffness.

The condition most commonly affects:

  • Women
  • People age 40 to 60
  • Those who haven't had a significant injury

With a frozen shoulder, you might remember a minor event that happened the first time you noticed your symptoms (such as bumping into something or heavy lifting). But the minor event probably wasn't the cause of your frozen shoulder—it's just likely the first activity you tried as your joint stiffness was developing.

A frozen shoulder can feel similar to a rotator cuff condition. But a frozen shoulder is different from rotator cuff tendonitis or a rotator cuff tear—and while both can cause significant pain, a frozen shoulder is more likely to lead to a stiff joint.

Causes

There are several risk factors for frozen shoulder. These conditions are seen much more commonly in people who are diagnosed with a frozen shoulder, but you don't necessarily have to have them if you have a frozen shoulder.

Conditions associated with frozen shoulder include:

  • Endocrine Abnormalities: The most common conditions that accompany spontaneous frozen shoulder are endocrine abnormalities. For some people, the endocrine disorder is only identified after a frozen shoulder is diagnosed. The most common associated issues are diabetes and thyroid conditions (hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism). 
  • Immobilization: The second most common cause of a frozen shoulder is immobilization. Often called a secondary frozen shoulder (as opposed to a primary frozen shoulder) this can develop when your shoulder is immobilized as you are healing from a traumatic injury, surgery (such as rotator cuff surgery), or recovering from a prolonged illness.
  • Neurologic Disorders: While a less common cause than endocrine abnormalities, neurologic disorders such as Parkinson's disease and stroke may lead to frozen shoulder.
  • Cardiac Disease: Cardiac abnormalities, including coronary artery disease and other heart conditions, can be associated with the development of a frozen shoulder.

While these conditions may make an individual more susceptible to the development of a frozen shoulder, a frozen shoulder is usually idiopathic (without an identifiable cause).

Treatment

Frozen shoulder can be an extremely frustrating condition. The stages of frozen shoulder progress slowly. Often seemingly coming from nowhere, the symptoms of frozen shoulder can take years to completely resolve in some cases. 

Usually, with physical therapy and other treatments, you can expect to recover from this condition. Pain may take months to resolve, and your range of motion may take even longer to completely return, but function almost always improves to normal. The other good news is that this condition improves without surgery in almost all cases.

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Article Sources
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  • Warner JJ. "Frozen Shoulder: Diagnosis and Management" J Am Acad Orthop Surg May 1997 vol. 5 no. 3 130-140