Warming up a frozen shoulder

08 January 2019

What is a frozen shoulder?

Frozen shoulder is a common cause of shoulder pain. The shoulder becomes very painful and it gradually becomes very stiff. It affects 8% of men and 10% of women of a working age. Diabetics have a greater chance of developing a frozen shoulder.

What causes a frozen shoulder?

In the vast majority of cases there is no obvious cause for the frozen shoulder developing but it sometimes happens after trauma, heart attack or a stroke.

What do I look for?

In the early phase of a frozen shoulder the presentation may be similar to lots of different causes of shoulder pain. The diagnosis only becomes apparent when the shoulder stiffness sets in. In particular patients have difficulty rotating their arm to the side.

How can I tell between frozen shoulder, a rotator cuff tendon problem or arthritis?

A rotator cuff tendon problem should not cause severe stiffness like a frozen shoulder does. Shoulder arthritis would typically be found in a more elderly patient but should be excluded with an X-ray.

What investigations are required?

A simple plain X-ray can rule out arthritis as the cause of pain and stiffness. Ultrasound and MRI scans are not required to make the diagnosis.

What treatments are available?

A frozen shoulder is a self-limiting condition, meaning that it will resolve by itself but it can take on average 2 – 2.5 years to resolve. Patients often may not tolerate the wait and may need to return to pain-free function sooner rather than later. There are options available depending on which stage the disease is in and whether pain or stiffness or both symptoms are most troublesome. Treatment options include painkillers, therapy to help regain movement, steroid injections with or without dilatation of the joint, manipulation of the shoulder or a key-hole operation to release the stiff tissue.

If you have any concerns, please contact your GP.

The content of this article is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the professional medical advice of your doctor or other health care professional.


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