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Frozen Shoulder FAQs

Frozen shoulder is a common, complex problem that affects many individuals. Despite ample research, a consensus over the true cause of frozen shoulder eludes us.

Dr. Robert Rolf, a board certified orthopaedic surgeon at Beacon Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine, has compiled a collection of frequently asked questions concerning frozen shoulder below.

The coming weeks will feature a collection of different FAQs about common shoulder conditions. This FAQ campaign is a digital extension of Dr. Rolf’s free Shoulder Talks that he hosts at Beacon West. If you’re interested in joining one of his shoulder talks, RSVP here and see when the next talk will be held.

In the meantime, let’s get to know a little more about the common questions about frozen shoulder.

Q: What is frozen shoulder?

A: Frozen shoulder is when your shoulder becomes gradually stiffer over time. Eventually, your range of motion decreases and this is often accompanied by extreme pain.

Q: How does frozen shoulder progress?

A: Frozen shoulder has three stages: freezing, frozen, and thawing. Freezing is when the shoulder’s range of motion gradually diminishes.  Shoulder movement becomes progressively more painful during this stage. Pain tends to be worse at night. When the shoulder is frozen, range of motion remains limited, but pain may resolve. People with frozen shoulder regain full to near full range of motion during the thawing stage.

Q: How long does it take to go through the stages?

A: A very long time. For frozen shoulder to progress on its own through all three stages can take anywhere between 11 months to almost 4 years!

Q: How do you get frozen shoulder?

A: The exact cause of frozen shoulder is a mystery. The easiest way to develop it is to be in a position where you don’t move your arm for a long time, such as when you are recovering from an injury that requires you to keep your arm in a sling.  Frozen shoulder can begin with or without antecedent trauma.

Q: Are certain demographics more likely to develop frozen shoulder than others?

A: Middle age women (40-60 years), diabetics, and those with thyroid diseases are at higher risk for developing frozen shoulder.

Q: What actually happens when a shoulder “freezes”?

A: The shoulder ligaments (the bands of muscle that hold the shoulder in place) become inflexible and stiff.

Q: How if frozen shoulder diagnosed?

A: Usually doctors can diagnose frozen shoulder by physical exam. X-rays or MRIs are also commonly used. It’s worth noting that frozen shoulder may present similarly to general inflammation of the shoulder joint or degenerative arthritis.

Q: How can I keep from getting frozen shoulder?

A: Avoid long periods of immobilization, unless it’s necessary, and make sure you’re always moving your shoulder. If you ever experience a reduction in shoulder range of motion and progressive worsening pain, see a doctor immediately.

Q: Can I get frozen shoulder twice?

A: It is possible, but it rarely occurs in the same shoulder. More often frozen shoulder develops in the opposite shoulder.

Q: After frozen shoulder, will my full range of motion be restored?

A: Most of the time, people who get frozen shoulder report that they get their full range of motion back.

Q: How is frozen shoulder treated?

A: Initially, frozen shoulder is treated with physical therapy and anti-inflammatory medicine (like ibuprofen). Steroid injections are useful at times.  Surgery can be helpful when patients fail conservative treatment.

Q: Is frozen shoulder related to arthritis in any way?

A: Not necessarily, although some patients that have shoulder arthritis are often treated as if they have frozen shoulder.

Q: When is it Time to Consult a Shoulder Specialist?

If you are experiencing any extension of the symptoms mentioned above, or excessive shoulder pain. For more information or a clinical evaluation, please schedule an appointment with Dr. Rolf.