Frozen Shoulder

Our team treats thousands of shoulder injuries each and every year, giving us the expertise you need to overcome frozen shoulder.


What Is Frozen Shoulder?

Frozen shoulder, or adhesive capsulitis, is a condition that causes shoulder pain and stiffness.

A capsule of connective tissue surrounds the top of your upper arm bone where it fits into the shoulder socket. When inflammation in the shoulder capsule causes it to thicken and tighten, it can become hard to move your shoulder.

Frozen shoulder has a gradual onset, with symptoms that get worse and then resolve within a few years. We can help you pinpoint the cause of your symptoms, and choose the frozen shoulder treatment option that’s right for you. At Aurora, that might mean medication, physical therapy, surgery or a combination approach to care.

The Aurora Difference

Comprehensive Frozen Shoulder Treatment

Our team includes dozens of orthopedic surgeons with expertise treating frozen shoulder. They use a variety of techniques to help you find relief, including physical therapy, medication and shoulder surgery.

People across Wisconsin also choose us for frozen shoulder treatment because we offer:

  • Efficient diagnosis: We work to get you in for an evaluation as quickly as possible, with many locations offering same-day appointments.
  • Coordinated care: Our orthopedists, physical therapists and primary care doctors work together to streamline your care. They take the initiative to communicate about your needs, and share your images with each other so you don’t have to. This collaborative approach makes it easier for you to focus on your recovery. Meet our sports health team.
  • Convenient treatment: We have a large number of physical therapy locations conveniently located throughout eastern Wisconsin. That makes it easy to get physical therapy for frozen shoulder close to home.

Symptoms & Causes

Signs of Frozen Shoulder

Shoulder pain is the main symptom of frozen shoulder. For many, it feels like a dull ache in the outer shoulder or upper arm.

Frozen shoulder develops slowly over 3 stages:

  • Freezing: During this stage, you may experience increasing shoulder pain as you move. The freezing stage can last several weeks to 9 months.
  • Frozen: While not necessarily as painful as the freezing stage, the frozen stage usually comes with increased stiffness. This stage can last 4 to 6 months.
  • Thawing: In this phase, strength and range of motion return to normal. Complete recovery may take up to 2 years. A frozen shoulder will usually heal on its own, but without treatment you may never regain full range of motion.

Causes of Frozen Shoulder

Doctors don’t completely understand what causes frozen shoulder, but certain factors do increase your risk:

  • Immobilization: If you’ve recently had to keep your shoulder still due to surgery or injury, you’re at increased risk of developing frozen shoulder. Moving your shoulder as soon as possible after injury or surgery may help prevent it.
  • Diabetes: Up to 1 in 5 people with diabetes will get frozen shoulder at some point in their lives. Nerve damage may contribute to joint problems in diabetic patients, but doctors aren’t sure why.
  • Other health conditions: Health problems like stroke, hyperthyroidism, Parkinson’s disease and heart disease can increase your risk of frozen shoulder.

Diagnosis & Treatment

Shoulder Tests & Imaging

To evaluate you for frozen shoulder, your doctor will move your shoulder in different directions and ask you to try to move it on your own. Your doctor may also order tests, including:

  • X-rays: An X-ray is an imaging procedure that uses small amounts of radioactive energy to get detailed images of your bones and internal structures.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): This type of scan uses radio waves and magnets to create detailed images of your bones and soft tissues.

Learn more about orthopedic diagnosis.

Treating a Frozen Shoulder

More than 90 percent of people with frozen shoulder recover with non-surgical treatment. Our orthopedic experts have deep expertise treating frozen shoulder with:

  • Medication: Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin and ibuprofen can help reduce shoulder pain and inflammation. Learn more about orthopedic pain we treat.
  • Injections: Cortisone shots in the shoulder joint can help relieve swelling and shoulder pain. Learn more about injections for joint pain.
  • Physical therapy: Certain shoulder exercises can help restore your range of motion. Learn more about physical therapy.
  • Minimally invasive surgery: If less invasive methods don’t work, your doctor may recommend surgery. During shoulder arthroscopy, the surgeon uses small incisions to access and view your shoulder with a tiny camera and surgical instruments. This type of surgery is known for faster recovery times, less scarring and less pain. Learn more about shoulder surgery.

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