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Last updated: Oct 6, 2021

Frozen Shoulder/Adhesive Capsulitis

When you have a frozen shoulder, you realize how much you took simple movements for granted. With adhesive capsulitis, you can’t reach for things the way you usually did. And playing any sports, even a pickup basketball game, is out of the question. When you notice shoulder pain and limitation in your range of motion, seek out the joint specialists at Redefine Healthcare at one of their four locations in northern New Jersey. Call today for a consultation.

Frozen ShoulderFrozen shoulder — or, as it’s called in the medical community, adhesive capsulitis — develops gradually over time. The first sign that something’s wrong is when you start feeling shoulder pain. Along with that pain, your shoulder may suddenly become stiff, limiting your comfortable range of motion.

Your shoulder joint is the most open joint in the body, which gives you the greater range of motion you enjoy when playing tennis, lifting a baby, or just reaching for a coffee cup in the cupboard. At the same time, an open joint is more susceptible to injury and disease. The main culprit for adhesive capsulitis is the shoulder capsule that’s composed of enveloping connective tissue. If the capsule starts thickening, it can stiffen, which tightens your shoulder.

How to Identify Frozen Shoulder

There comes the point when your shoulder is so stiff that you can’t raise your arm even with someone’s help. Reaching for a glass on the shelf becomes painfully impossible. And you can forget about playing your favorite sport.

The characteristics of the pain you feel when you have adhesive capsulitis can take many forms, including:

  • In the beginning, the pain and stiffness may not be that bad.
  • The pain may be either dull or an aching throb.
  • You usually feel pain on the outer side of your shoulder.
  • The shoulder pain and stiffness get worse without treatment until it’s almost unbearable.
  • While you try to sleep during the night, the pain may become unbearable.
  • Sometimes, the pain can spread down to your upper arm as well.

Get to a Joint Specialist for Relief

Your pain relief doctors at Redefine Healthcare in northern New Jersey have to examine your shoulder to assess your condition. You can’t receive appropriate frozen shoulder treatment until your doctor knows the extent of the damage. In the office, you move and rotate your arm as much as you can. Then your doctor moves and rotates the arm further.

To conclusively exclude another condition, your doctor gives you an injection test. They inject an anesthetic into your shoulder. If your condition improves, you don’t need adhesive capsulitis treatment, merely rest and physical therapy. If the pain remains, however, you have a frozen shoulder.

The Stages of Frozen Shoulder

Adhesive capsulitis takes a long time to respond to treatment fully. It depends on what stage of the condition you’re in when you seek treatment for frozen shoulder.

There are three stages of adhesive capsulitis, which include:

  1. The freezing stage is signaled by gradually increasing shoulder pain that gets worse day by day. After six to nine weeks, you start experiencing limitations in your range of motion, too.
  2. In the frozen stage, the pain begins to decrease in severity, but your shoulder stays stiff, making any movement difficult. This stage lasts up to six months.
  3. The thawing stage occurs when you regain your range of motion in the shoulder. It may take another six months to two years for you to have a return to full functionality. In extreme cases, it can take up to five years, but that’s relatively rare.

Plausible Causes for Adhesive Capsulitis

The exact cause of adhesive capsulitis remains unknown, but you’re at higher risk if you have certain other medical conditions, such as diabetes. People with diabetes suffer from frozen shoulder more often than other people. Diabetes also means your measure of stiffness is more pronounced, and your recovery process is longer.

If you had shoulder surgery or an injury that forced you to immobilize the joint, you might develop a frozen shoulder due to the lack of movement.

Other possible causes of adhesive capsulitis include:

  • Hypothyroidism
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • A heart condition

How to Treat Frozen Shoulder

Treatment for frozen shoulder depends on what your New Jersey doctor finds during the examination. In most cases of adhesive capsulitis, you may just need a few over-the-counter pain relievers for the pain as the condition progresses through its stages. For severe pain, we may give you a prescription painkiller that’s more potent.

You may opt to get steroid injections. Injections offer faster relief, but the effect is temporary, usually lasting several weeks to a few months. You can also try hydrodilatation, which uses a mixture of saline with a glucocorticoid in the injection. Injections are done right in your doctor’s office.

Once you’re out of the freezing stage, your doctor often suggests physical therapy stretches and exercises. Physical therapy works the shoulder muscles, improving your range of motion. But start slowly and listen to your therapist’s advice. Contact the best pain specialists in New Jersey.

This page was published on Oct 9, 2019, modified on Oct 6, 2021 by Dr. Freeman (Pain Management Specialist) of Redefine Healthcare
Dr. Eric D. Freeman, a highly regarded pain specialist

Dr. Eric D. Freeman is a top-rated, best-in-class pain management doctor. He is a nationally recognized pain relief specialist and is among the top pain care doctors in New Jersey and the country. He is an award-winning expert and contributor to prominent media outlets.

Dr. Eric D. Freeman has been recognized for his thoughtful, thorough, modern approach to treating chronic pain. He has been named a "top pain management doctor in New Jersey" and one of "America’s Top Physicians" for advanced sports injury treatments.

Learns more about Dr. Freeman | Dr. Freeman's Scholar

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