Sports Medicine: Adhesive Capsulitis (Frozen Shoulder)

A Spine Center physician reviews an X-ray.

Adhesive Capsulitis (frozen shoulder)

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.”

Why Choose The Orthopedic Institute of New Jersey

At OINJ, board certified physicians work collaboratively to come up with the best solutions for you. Using innovative techniques and the most up-to-date research and technologies available, our specialists have one goal: to get you back into the best of orthopedic health. We work with each other, as well as with other partners in your care, to develop the treatment plan that will work for you.

Our multiple office locations that can be reached by one centralized call center make it easy to schedule and get to appointments, and we treat patients of all ages with injuries and orthopedic conditions of all kinds.

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Featured Physicians

Robert A. DeFalco, Jr., DO – Orthopedic Physician

Board certified by the American Osteopathic Board of Orthopedic surgery, Dr. DeFalco’s areas of expertise include arthroscopic surgery of the knee and shoulder, articular cartilage transplants, ligament reconstruction, meniscal repair, and orthopedic sports medicine.

Dr. DeFalco completed a sports medicine and arthroscopic surgery fellowship at Hahnemann University Hospital in Philadelphia, and did his residency at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) — Kennedy Health System. He received his medical degree from the University of New England College of Osteopathic Medicine in Biddeford, Maine, and his undergraduate degree from the University of Maryland in College Park.

Rehan Syed Shamim, MD – Orthopedic Physician

Dr. Shamim held his fellowship in orthopedic sports medicine at the UCLA Medical Center. He completed his residency in orthopedic surgery at the University of Pennsylvania Health System and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. He received his medical degree from Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, where he was president of his medical school class. Dr. Shamim earned his undergraduate degree in economics from Princeton University.

Before joining OINJ, Dr. Shamim served as assistant team physician for the UCLA Bruins, where he treated many Olympic, professional, and NCAA Division I athletes. His areas of expertise include shoulder and knee injuries and arthroscopic and open surgery of the shoulder, knee, and hip.

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The Orthopedic Institute of New Jersey is a premier multi-disciplinary center offering complete orthopedic care, rehabilitation and pain management services to patients of all ages and activity levels using a customized treatment plan to fit individual needs.

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