A frozen shoulder is shoulder pain that prevents you from moving your arm. Often the pain and stiffness are present all the time.
More about your injury
The capsule of the shoulder joint is made of strong tissue (ligaments) that hold the shoulder bones to each other. When the capsule becomes inflamed, the shoulder bones are unable to move freely in the joint. This condition is called frozen shoulder.
Frozen shoulder may develop with no known cause. It can also occur in people who:
Have a shoulder injury
Have had a stroke that makes them unable to use their arm
Have a cast on their arm that holds their arm in one position
Have medical problems, such as thyroid disease, diabetes, or menopause
What to expect
The symptoms of frozen shoulder often follow this pattern:
At first, you have a lot of pain, or a freezing feeling that prevents you from moving your arm.
Then your shoulder becomes very stiff and hard to move, but the pain lessens. It becomes hard to reach over your head or behind you.
Finally, the pain goes away and you can use your arm again. This is the thawing phase and can take months to end.
It can take a few months to go through these stages of frozen shoulder. The shoulder can get very painful and stiff before it starts to loosen. And it may take as long as 18 to 24 months for complete healing. To help speed healing, your health care provider will:
Teach you exercises to restore motion in your shoulder joint
Refer you to a physical therapist
Your provider may also advise you to have a steroid shot. This medicine can reduce inflammation and make you more comfortable. The medicine is injected into your shoulder joint.
Most people have a full recovery with full range of motion without surgery.
Using moist heat on your shoulder 3 to 4 times a day may help relieve some pain and stiffness.
For pain, you can use ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn), or acetaminophen (Tylenol). You can buy these pain medicines at the store.
Talk with your health care provider before using these medicines if you have heart disease, high blood pressure, kidney disease, or have had stomach ulcers or internal bleeding in the past.
Do not take more than the amount recommended on the bottle or by your health care provider.
In your home
Get help setting up your home so that you can get to everything you need without reaching above your shoulders or behind your back.
Keep the clothes that you wear most often in drawers and shelves that are between your waist and shoulder level.
Store food in cupboards, drawers, and refrigerator shelves that are between your waist and shoulder level.
Get help with housecleaning, taking out the garbage, gardening, and other household tasks.
You will learn some simple exercises and stretches for your shoulder.
At first, try to do these exercises once every hour, or at least 4 times a day.
It is more important to do the exercises often than to do them for a long time each time you do them.
Use moist heat before the exercises to help lessen pain and increase movement.
The exercises should focus on stretching of the shoulder and range of motion.
Avoid exercises to strengthen your shoulder until the range of motion has returned.
Some of the exercises are:
Rope and pulley stretches
Movements to help with internal and external rotation, such as hand behind back
Your health care provider, nurse, or rehabilitation therapist will show you how to do these exercises.
When to call the doctor
Call your doctor if:
The pain in your shoulder is getting worse
You re-injure your arm or shoulder
Your frozen shoulder is making you feel sad or depressed
Krabak BJ, Banks NL. Adhesive capsulitis. In: Frontera WR, Silver JK, eds. Essentials of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders;2008:chap 10.
C. Benjamin Ma, MD, Assistant Professor, Chief, Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service, UCSF Department of Orthopaedic Surgery. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.