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What is a Frozen Shoulder?


The term “frozen shoulder” is a lay-term to describe a condition whose medical name is “adhesive capsulitis.” Although a lay-term, “frozen shoulder” accurately describes this condition. For incompletely understood reasons, the glenohumeral capsule (the soft tissue lining of the shoulder ball-and-saucer joint) becomes inflamed and contracted. As a result, there is severe restriction of motion of this joint. Patients with this condition have pain when moving their shoulder in any direction. This can be very limiting. Fortunately, however, most often the frozen shoulder thaws and motion and function of this joint are regained. However, this can take up to two years to occur. The thawing process can sometimes be hastened somewhat with physical therapy exercises to try and stretch the contracted joint capsule.

In a small percentage of patients, the frozen shoulder never thaws and regaining motion requires surgical intervention. Current technology allows us to perform arthroscopic surgery in which the joint capsule is cut under direct vision of an arthroscope. Then the shoulder is gently manipulated in order to break up any adhesions or scar tissue which may have formed outside the joint. The resulting gains in motion can be dramatic. However, it takes a lot of effort doing physical therapy stretching exercises in order to maintain these gains in motion. People not willing to do these painful stretching exercises after such a surgical intervention will develop post-surgical scarring which will lead to the reformation of a tight capsule and loss of the motion gained at surgery.

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