What is adhesive capsulitis?
Adhesive capsulitis — adhesive, meaning stuck together, and capsulitis, referring to the capsule of connective tissue in your shoulder that contains the bones, ligaments and tendons that make up your shoulder joint — is also known more descriptively as frozen shoulder. When this capsule tightens around the joint, shoulder movements become painful or difficult.
The primary symptom is the inability to move, or difficulty in moving, your shoulder. This often occurs in stages, with pain in the first stage and immobility setting in later.
Sometimes, frozen shoulder can develop because you’ve stopped using it naturally. Maybe you’ve had a back issue, or an injury, that has limited your full range of motion. A sudden event, like a stroke, or recovery from surgery such as a mastectomy, can also cause you to stop using your shoulder in a normal way. Age is a factor, with the condition affecting those over 40 more frequently; women are affected with the condition more often than men. If you’ve had a previous arm or shoulder injury, your risk is higher as well. And those with certain chronic conditions like diabetes or an under- or over-active thyroid are more susceptible to frozen shoulder.
When you come in for a diagnosis and treatment, your physician will ask questions about your medical history, such as if you’ve had recent surgery or have any chronic diseases. A physical exam that tests your active and passive range of motion will most likely be administered — that is, how well you can move your arm on your own and how easily it can be manipulated by the doctor. Your doctor may want to take an x-ray or an MRI to see if there is an underlying cause, such as arthritis, or an actual broken bone.
“Usually, if frozen shoulder proves to be the diagnosis, we’ll start with a course of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicine,” says Robert DeFalco, DO, an orthopedic physician at OINJ. “Heat, ice, stretching, physical therapy, manipulation, and even steroid injections, in some cases, may be the next steps.”
A frozen shoulder takes some time for recovery; in fact, you may be healing for a year or more. “Surgery is sometimes an option,” says Rehan Shamim, MD, another orthopedic physician at OINJ. “The tissue can be stretched or even cut during surgery, depending on what is necessary.”