Frozen shoulder

What is frozen shoulder?

Frozen shoulder, or adhesive capsulitis, is a restriction in the range of movement of the shoulder joint.  It characteristically starts with a spontaneous onset of pain in the shoulder which is accompanied by progressive restriction of movement of the joint.  It is associated with a tightening of the capsule of the joint.

Some evidence suggests a degree of inflammation may also be present.

Why does it happen?

It is very common but the cause is poorly understood. It can occur spontaneously for no apparent reason or can be secondary to other conditions such as arthritis or following trauma.

Who is usually affected?

More women than men, and usually the middle aged to older population, but it can develop in any age group and is present in approximately 2% of the population.  Some evidence suggests a higher prevalence linked to diabetes.


  • Pain in the upper arm which may travel all the way to the base of the thumb in severe cases.
  • Difficulty lying on the affected shoulder at night.
  • Difficulty combing/brushing hair.
  • Difficulty tucking in shirt, fastening bra or moving the hand behind the back.

Physiotherapy Treatment

Physiotherapy can be very effective in the treatment of this condition.  A thorough assessment will help determine the cause and nature of your problem.  Your physiotherapist will discuss treatment options with you and tailor your treatment to meet your needs.

Treatment in the acute stage of the condition will be aimed at reducing pain and increasing range of movement and then strengthening exercises can be included to fully rehabilitate the joint.

Treatment may include:

  • ‘Hands – on’ specific joint movements and stretching.
  • Soft tissue massage.
  • Electro-therapy
  • Acupuncture.
  • Specific exercise program to continue at home.
  • Steroid injection may be indicated and your physiotherapist can refer you to a specialist if required.

What you can do

  • Take adequate pain relief to allow you to move the affected shoulder as much as possible.
  • Use a hot pack wrapped in a towel or cold pack in a damp cloth.
  • Specific stretches – your Physiotherapist can advise you on this.

For further advice on how we can help your frozen shoulder, contact our physiotherapists.