It’s spring…freezing temps are but a thing of the past. But if your shoulder is causing you painful, range-of-motion issues, it’s possible you have “Frozen Shoulder,” or adhesive capsulitis.

Frozen shoulder is painful and disabling and is characterized by pain and stiffness in your shoulder joint. The ligaments, tendons and bones that comprise your shoulder joint are encased in a capsule of connective tissue. Frozen shoulder occurs when this capsule thickens, tightens around the shoulder joint, and restricts its movement.

Doctors aren’t sure why this happens to some people; the cause of frozen shoulder is unclear. But it’s more likely to occur in people who have diabetes or those who recently had to immobilize their shoulder for a long period, such as after a mastectomy surgery or an arm fracture. Additional risk factors include stroke, connective tissue disease, thyroid disease or shoulder injury related to vaccine administration.

People age 40 and older, particularly women, are more likely to develop frozen shoulder. For some people, the pain is worse at night, sometimes disrupting sleep. Certain bumps or movements can provoke episodes of tremendous pain and cramping.

The symptoms of frozen shoulder usually begin gradually, worsen over time and tend to resolve on their own within one to three years. Frozen shoulder typically develops in three stages, each lasting a number of months:

  1. The freezing stage, where each shoulder movement causes pain, and your range of motion begins to become limited.
  2. The frozen stage, where your pain may begin to diminish. However, your shoulder becomes stiffer, and using it becomes more difficult.
  3. The thawing stage, where the range of motion in your shoulder begins to improve.

Treatment for frozen shoulder involves physical therapy, occupational therapy, massage therapy and sometimes corticosteroids and numbing medications injected into the joint capsule. In a small percentage of cases, arthroscopic surgery may be indicated to loosen the joint capsule so that it can move more freely. Pain and inflammation can be controlled analgesics and NSAIDs.