Frozen Shoulder

A frozen shoulder, causing severe pain and stiffness in the shoulder joint, may come on following surgery or an injury to the shoulder, due to conditions such as diabetes, or sometimes for no known reason.

What is a frozen shoulder?

A frozen shoulder can be a very painful condition affecting of the shoulder, where the capsule which surrounds the shoulder joint becomes very inflamed and then thickens and tightens. A frozen shoulder is likely to follow a pattern of a mainly painful phase (known as ‘freezing’), a phase of being mainly stiff (‘frozen’) and finally a phase of recovery (‘thawing’), though this can vary from person to person. Recovery can take between 1 and 3 years, but in conditions such as diabetes it may take longer, and some persistent tightness in certain movements may remain.

Who does it affect?

It tends to affect people between the age of 35 and 60. The exact cause of a frozen shoulder is unknown, but it is more common in conditions such as diabetes and thyroid disease, and following an injury or surgery where the arm has not been moved. Once you have had a frozen shoulder, it is very unlikely that you will experience another one on the same side.

Frozen shoulder rehabilitation

In the early stages, paracetamol and ibuprofen can be helpful, but if the pain is very severe a cortico-steroid injection can be given by your GP, a specially trained Physiotherapist or Consultant.

As the pain eases and you are able to move more comfortably, doing exercises and everyday activities can help recover your movements. Your physiotherapist will advise you about exercises you can do to keep your shoulder as flexible and strong as possible whilst the frozen shoulder settles.

Below are some exercises you can try. It is important you start exercising gradually to avoid big increases in your pain, which might make it hard to keep doing the exercises regularly. It is also important to remember that the pain you might experience when exercising with a frozen shoulder is not a sign you are doing harm.

Frozen shoulder surgery

In some cases where the pain and stiffness is very severe and limiting, you may be referred to the Derby Shoulder Unit for a surgical opinion. The aim of surgery is to release the tightness in the capsule surrounding the shoulder to enable you to move more freely. This might be a manipulation under anaesthetic, where you are anaesthetised and your shoulder joint is stretched beyond what you can normally tolerate to break up the scar tissue, or the scar tissue is cleared away using keyhole surgery. It is important that immediately following the surgery you try to move your arm as much as possible otherwise there is a risk that the shoulder will tighten back up again.