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Adhesive Capsulitis

What Is Adhesive Capsulitis?

Adhesive Capsulitis, commonly known as 'frozen shoulder' is a medical condition which is characterized by pain, stiffness, and loss of range of motion in the shoulder joint.

Patients are generally only affected in one shoulder, although some people may eventually develop the condition in both shoulder joints.

With physical therapy treatment, most patients regain their full range of motion and shoulder strength.

Causes of Adhesive Capsulitis:

The shoulder is what is called a ball-and-socket joint, with the humerus (arm bone) fitting into the scapula (shoulder blade). The joint is surrounded by tough connective tissue known as the shoulder capsule.

Adhesive capsulitis occurs when this connective tissue becomes inflamed, causing bands of tissue to form and reducing the amount of synovial fluid (a lubricating fluid which facilitates joint movement) in the shoulder joint.

The result is increasing stiffness in the shoulder joint, which eventually severely limits the possible range of motion. Ordinary tasks like tooth-brushing or combing one's hair may become nearly impossible.

The precise cause of adhesive capsulitis is not yet understood, but medical practitioners have identified some of the following common risk factors:


Individuals over age 40 are more likely to develop the condition;

Injury and trauma

Shoulder injuries, surgery to the chest or shoulder areas, and other conditions (such as tendonitis or bursitis) which render the shoulder immobile for extended periods may increase the likelihood of developing frozen shoulder;


Although the reason is not clear, patients with diabetes have an increased risk for adhesive capsulitis;

Systemic Disease

Hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism and cardiovascular disease all appear to increase the
occurrence of frozen shoulder.

Adhesive Capsulitis Symptoms:

There are three distinctive stages to adhesive capsulitis.

1. In the early stage, any movement of the shoulder is painful, and motion begins to become restricted.

2. In the 'frozen' stage, motion is extremely limited, and pain may begin to diminish.

3. In the 'thawing' stage, range of motion begins to return to the shoulder.

Adhesive Capsulitis Diagnosis:

Diagnosis is usually a combination of range-of-motion tests, performed first by the patient raising and lowering his or her arm, and then by the doctor manipulating the shoulder joint.

An X-ray or MRI may be taken of the joint to confirm the diagnosis or to rule out any other disorders.

Adhesive Capsulitis Treatments:

Treatment for adhesive capsulitis generally involves pain management and preservation of motion in the joint.

Doctors may recommend physical therapy in order to help maintain range of motion in the shoulder.

Anti-inflammatory drugs or cortisone injections may be prescribed, and in a few cases surgery may be necessary to correct the condition.

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