Description and Characteristics of Frozen Shoulder

Several authors have suggested that the origin of frozen shoulder is autoimmune. However, evidence doesn't confirm this theory yet. What do we know about this condition? Continue reading to find out!
Description and Characteristics of Frozen Shoulder

Last update: 12 January, 2021

Frozen shoulder, also known as adhesive capsulitis, is defined as the progressive loss of passive mobility in the shoulder. This manifests along with diffuse pain that predominates in the anterolateral area of this part of the body.

Several authors have described possible causes and pathological changes that occur in the glenohumeral joint capsule and surrounding tissues. Their course is insidious, progressive, and, in most cases, self-limiting.

Furthermore, this injury occurs most frequently in people between the ages of 40 and 70. It’s also more common in women and patients with thyroid gland disorders and diabetes.

As you’ll read below, the objective of this treatment is to recover the mobility of the articulation as well as its functionality. It’ll also focus on decreasing pain through the administration of drugs or, ultimately, surgery.

Shoulder anatomy

A person with a shoulder tattoo.
The shoulder is a joint formed by the union of the ends of the clavicle, scapula, and humerus.

The shoulder is the part of the body where the arm meets the rest of the body. This joint has the greatest range of movement in the human body and formed by the union of the ends of three bones:

  • Clavicle
  • Scapula
  • Humerus

These three bones come together through muscles, ligaments, and tendons. This is what allows their mobility. Moreover, the main shoulder joint connects the top of the humerus to the scapula.

This joint is the scapulohumeral joint and has two articular surfaces. One of them corresponds to the top of the humerus, which has a hemispherical shape. The other is the glenoid cavity of the scapula. Both surfaces are covered by cartilage – this is what allows it to move fluidly and painlessly.

Thus, the set of muscles and tendons that attach to the bone surfaces make the mobility of the joint possible, as we just said above. For example, the rotator cuff has four muscles and these provide mobility and stability to the shoulder.

Causes of frozen shoulder

Several authors have suggested that the origin of this condition is autoimmune.

However, serological tests don’t confirm this theory. Others suggest it’s a variant of reflex sympathetic dystrophy. The scientific community hasn’t fully accepted this theory, either. This is because adhesive capsulitis doesn’t improve because it’s dystrophy.

De Palma, another specialist, stated that muscular inactivity is the main cause of this lesion. Causes of lack of scapulohumeral mobility include:

  • Bicipital tenosynovitis
  • Calcareous tendonitis
  • Contusions
  • Fractures
  • Secondary capsular scars or surgical procedures

Treatment of frozen shoulder

A woman consulting a physician.
Frozen shoulder affects the mobility of the joint. Thus, the purpose of treatment is to generate a maximum range of motion.

As we mentioned at the beginning of the article, the goal of treatment is to restore both mobility and functionality to the shoulder.

Thus, treatment includes the prescription of medications such as anti-inflammatory drugs or steroids — to ease the pain. The patient may also undergo arthroscopy in the most severe cases.

Note that this condition has two well-defined phases:

  • One in which pain predominates
  • The other in which stiffness prevails

Pain is intense during the first phase of physiotherapy treatment and its’ there even when the patient is at rest. Thus, controlling it and getting the patient to generate a maximum range of motion in the shoulder joint must be the goal.

As the patient improves in this respect, the treatment will focus on the objective of increasing the range of motion in the joint. Also, they’ll begin a series of exercises that include the rotator cuff. This is because it’s involved with the joint capsule.

Last but not least, it’s important to tell the patient what other parts of the body can be affected by having a frozen shoulder as they’ll be in pain, and their mobility reduced. Thus, it’s normal to try to compensate with other muscles.

As you can see, there could be a pain in the cervical or lumbar areas. It’s due to the stress that the tissues in these areas receive from maintaining a poor posture.


Frozen shoulder or adhesive capsulitis is an injury that occurs in the shoulder joint. This joint loses mobility and functionality in a considerable way when it occurs and also leads to pain.

Finally, consult a professional about the most recommended treatments for your individual situation, as well as for any questions you may have about this rather annoying injury.

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