What is Frozen Shoulder?

Frozen shoulder is a painful condition that is also known as adhesive capsulitis. With frozen shoulder, your shoulder joint is extremely painful and stiff, which can result in a limited range of motion that can affect your daily activities and overall quality of life.

To better understand the condition, let’s take a closer look at the anatomy of the shoulder:

Shoulder Anatomy

  • Your upper arm bone is your humerus
  • Your shoulder blade is your scapula
  • Your collarbone is your clavicle

The head of the humerus fits into an open space in the scapula, creating a ball and socket joint. This joint, as well as your rotator cuff tendons, are surrounded by a strong connective tissue that is known as the shoulder capsule. There is also fluid present in the shoulder to help lubricate the capsule and joint so your shoulder can move.

If the shoulder capsule thickens and tightens, frozen shoulder develops. Adhesions (stiff bands of tissue) also develop and often there is less fluid available to lubricate the joint.

Symptoms of Frozen Shoulder

The overall symptoms of frozen shoulder include pain and stiffness, as well as a declining ability to move your shoulder. This pain can last up to several years with symptoms being divided into three stages:



Freezing Stage

  • Pain develops when you move your shoulder and gets worse over time.
  • You’re limited in how much and how far you can move your shoulder.
  • This stage lasts around 6 to 9 months.

Frozen Stage

  • Moving the shoulder becomes more difficult.
  • Completing daily activities becomes harder.
  • The pain may dull but the stiffness gets worse.
  • This stage can last around 4 to 12 months.

Thawing Stage

  • Your range of motion begins to go back to normal.
  • This stage can take around 6 months to 2 years.

Causes of Frozen Shoulder

While the exact causes of frozen shoulder aren’t well known, there are a few factors that have been shown to put you at a higher risk of developing the condition:

  • If the shoulder has been immobile for a long period of time. This can be common after recovering from arm surgery.
  • Certain medical conditions like diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, hyperthyroidism and cardiac disease.

Frozen Shoulder Treatment Options

Frozen shoulder improves with time, but in many patients it can take up to several years to heal on its own. However, there are many options available to control pain and help restore range of motion.

Nonsurgical Options

  • Aspirin and ibuprofen can help reduce pain and swelling.
  • Cortisone (steroids) can be injected right into the shoulder joint for direct anti-inflammatory relief.
  • Physical therapy, including stretching and range of motion exercises, can help restore mobility.

Surgical Options
If nonsurgical treatment fails, there are surgical options to relieve your symptoms:

  • Arthroscopic Shoulder Surgery
    With arthroscopic surgery, an orthopaedic surgeon cuts through the tight sections of your joint capsule, which can provide relief.
  • Shoulder Manipulation
    An orthopaedic surgeon can also perform a manipulation under anesthesia, where you are put to sleep and the surgeon forces your arm to move. This helps the capsule and scar tissue stretch and tear, and can help increase your range of motion.

If frozen shoulder surgery is performed, physical therapy during recovery will be crucial to maintain your range of motion.



Auburn, NH Ambulatory Surgery Center

45 Dartmouth Dr.
Auburn, New Hampshire 03032

Dover, NH Orthopaedic Clinic

19 Webb Place
Dover, NH 03820

Rochester, NH Orthopaedic Clinic

120 Washington Street Suite 101
Rochester, NH 03839

Portsmouth, NH Orthopaedic Clinic (Walk-In Clinic)

155 Borthwick Avenue, Suite 102
Portsmouth, NH 03801

Raymond, NH Orthopaedic Clinic

6 Freetown Road
Raymond, NH 03077


The percentage of patients with frozen shoulder who improve with nonsurgical treatments.

Relieve Your Pain

Our shoulder specialists can help you find much-needed pain relief from your frozen shoulder symptoms.

Our staff understands and recognizes the importance of providing current and accurate workers’ compensation information and patient progress reports in a timely manner. Above all, our focus is on the recovery process and getting patients back to work quickly.

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Joshua A. Siegel, MD

Knee & Shoulder

Dr. Siegel is an award-winning surgeon with more than 20 years of experience. He is a US Olympic Committee team physician, a US ski team physician and covers USGA and PGA tour events. Locally, he is the team physician for several high schools, including Phillips Exeter Academy.

Meet Dr. Siegel

David Davis, MD

Knee & Shoulder

Dr. Davis specializes in the treatment of sports-related injuries and has contributed to numerous scholarly publications. His experience includes working as an assistant team physician for the Boston Celtics and Tufts University football and hockey programs. Currently, he is a team physician for several New Hampshire Seacoast high schools.

Meet Dr. Davis

Benjamin Thompson, MD

Knee & Shoulder

Dr. Thompson is an award-winning surgeon, with team physician experience working with the Pawtucket Red Sox, the Lowell Spinners, the Pro Bull Riders Tour and Worcester Polytechnical Institute football team.

Meet Dr. Thompson

Frozen Shoulder Frequently Asked Questions

How is frozen shoulder diagnosed?

Your physician will perform a physical examination to assess the pain level and limitations of your shoulder joint. X-rays or MRIs are also frequently ordered to get a closer look at the severity of the condition.

Is there a way to prevent getting frozen shoulder?

Most importantly, you should avoid long periods of immobilization. If you are recovering from a surgical procedure that limits your shoulder mobility, consult with your doctor on the types of activities you can perform to avoid lengthy periods of rest.

What kind of physical therapy do I need for frozen shoulder?

You should work with a certified physical therapist to create a customized plan that is suitable for your condition. Activities that are performed without the guidance of a physical therapist could lead to further injuries that can delay your progress.

When should I consult with a shoulder specialist?

If you’re experiencing long instances of pain or stiffness in your shoulder, you should contact a shoulder specialist. Even if surgery isn’t necessary, they will be able to prescribe a treatment plan that can help improve your symptoms.