What is 'Frozen Shoulder'?

By Athlete's Care on May 28, 2018

Frozen shoulder is one of the many conditions that our clients bring to our Toronto physiotherapists, chiropractors, and other sports medicine specialists.


Toronto Physiotherapy

Frozen shoulder is a condition that can be puzzling in how it seems to develop. You may not notice anything in particular that leads up to it. One day, you may just wake up and find your shoulder is sore, and when you try to move, it’s stiff, and doesn’t seem to want to move in a full range of motion. That’s frozen shoulder.

A typical case of frozen shoulder gets worse over a period of time. It can take from six months to up to three years to fully heal. 

Frozen Shoulder – the basics

The condition is also called adhesive capsulitis. The term refers to the capsule of connective tissue that surrounds your joints. When you have frozen shoulder, the capsule has swollen or thickened, and as it tighten around the bones, ligaments, and tendons, movement becomes more and more restricted.

While the exact cause may not yet be understood, there are several risk factors associated with frozen shoulder.

  • Your risk goes up if you have recently had surgery or a condition where you are unable to move your arm for a period of time, such as recovering from mastectomy surgery or a stroke.
  • Other conditions that seem to carry an increased risk of developing frozen shoulder include diabetes and other systemic diseases like  as thyroid disease, TB, cardiovascular disease, and Parkinson’s disease
  • If you are age 40 and older, especially if you are a woman.

Whatever its underlying cause, it’s thickening and tightening of the capsule tissue that causes pain and restricts movement.

  • Scar tissue forms in bands that stiffen and tighten around the joint capsule.
  • Levels of the joint lubricating liquid, called synovial fluid, is reduced, leading to friction, which also works to limit range of motion.


Symptoms typically begin with a dull ache in one shoulder. The pain may extend to the upper shoulder muscles and the upper arm, and it may get worse at night.

Frozen shoulder generally develops over three stages. They may last one or more months each, and they may not necessarily last an equal amount of time. The stages can be characterized by what you’ll notice the most.

1. Pain. Any movement of the shoulder causes significant pain that worsens over time. Range of motion is also becoming more difficult.

2. Stiffness. The pain typically lessens after the first stage, even as stiffness increases, and range of motion decreases more and more.

3. Recovery. Over time, range of motion will improve again, and any leftover pain should go away too.


Treatment can involve several options, depending on how serious your case is.

  • Exercise – exercises that involve range of motion can be effective.
  • Pain management options include ibuprofen or aspirin, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs that can provide relief. If they don’t work, prescription medications are available to help.
  • Corticosteroid injections into the joint capsule can alleviate the pain.
  • In serious cases, arthroscopic surgery may be advised in order to loosen up the joint capsule.

Once you’ve had frozen shoulder once, the good news is that it isn’t likely to come back...in the same shoulder. It’s not unheard of to experience it in the opposite shoulder as well.

Prevention may be possible. If you are immobile for a period of time, or you live with any of the following conditions, then you can ask your Toronto physiotherapist or chiropractor what kind of exercises you can do during your convalescence to help maintain range of motion.

Let our Toronto physiotherapists, chiropractors, or other sports medicine specialists help you with frozen shoulder, shoulder pain, or any other musculoskeletal issue or condition. Call one of our Toronto clinics, or drop by today to make an appointment.