Adhesive capsulitis, also known as frozen shoulder, is a condition that causes pain and stiffness in the shoulder joint. It occurs when the connective tissues surrounding the shoulder joint become thickened and tight, leading to a decrease in the joint’s range of motion.

The exact cause of adhesive capsulitis is not fully understood, but certain factors can increase the risk of developing this condition. These include age (more common in individuals over 40), gender (women are more prone to develop it), certain medical conditions (such as diabetes, thyroid disorders, and cardiovascular disease), and previous shoulder injuries or surgeries.

The hallmark symptom of adhesive capsulitis is shoulder pain that gradually worsens and limits the ability to move the shoulder in all directions. The pain is often described as deep and aching, and it may be worse at night or during activities that require overhead movement. Over time, the shoulder joint becomes increasingly stiff, making it difficult to perform daily tasks or participate in physical activities.

The natural course of adhesive capsulitis involves three stages:

1. Freezing stage: This is characterized by the onset of pain and progressive loss of shoulder motion. The shoulder gradually becomes more stiff and movement becomes limited.

2. Frozen stage: During this stage, the pain may decrease, but the shoulder remains stiff and movement is significantly restricted. Daily activities become more challenging.

3. Thawing stage: In this stage, shoulder motion gradually improves, and pain subsides. Full recovery may take several months to years, and some individuals may experience residual stiffness or limitations.


Adhesive capsulitis, commonly known as frozen shoulder, does not have specific types. However, it can be classified based on the underlying cause or associated conditions. Here are some classifications that are sometimes used in relation to adhesive capsulitis:

1. Primary adhesive capsulitis: This is the most common form of adhesive capsulitis and occurs spontaneously without a specific underlying cause. It typically affects individuals between the ages of 40 and 60, and the exact cause is still not well understood.

2. Secondary adhesive capsulitis: This refers to cases of frozen shoulder that occur as a result of an underlying condition or event, such as trauma, previous shoulder surgery, rotator cuff injury, or certain medical conditions like diabetes, thyroid disorders, or cardiovascular disease. These conditions can contribute to the development of adhesive capsulitis or make it more likely to occur.

It’s worth noting that while these classifications can help in understanding the context and potential causes of adhesive capsulitis, the overall management and treatment approaches for frozen shoulder are similar regardless of the underlying cause.


The primary symptom of adhesive capsulitis, or frozen shoulder, is pain and stiffness in the shoulder joint. The severity of these symptoms can vary from person to person. Here are the common symptoms associated with adhesive capsulitis:

1. Shoulder pain: The pain is often deep and aching, and can be constant or intermittent. It may worsen with movement or at night, which can disturb sleep. The pain typically starts gradually and may become more intense over time.

2. Shoulder stiffness: One of the main characteristics of adhesive capsulitis is limited shoulder mobility. You may experience difficulty in performing everyday activities that require full range of motion in the shoulder joint, such as reaching overhead, combing your hair, or putting on clothes.

3. Loss of range of motion: As the condition progresses, you may notice a progressive loss in your shoulder’s range of motion. Initially, you may have difficulty with external rotation (moving your arm away from your body) and then with internal rotation (moving your arm towards your body).

4. Shoulder weakness: In some cases, you may experience weakness in the affected shoulder due to decreased use and muscle disuse.


The diagnosis of adhesive capsulitis, or frozen shoulder, is typically made by a healthcare professional based on your symptoms, medical history, and a physical examination. Here are the common steps involved in diagnosing adhesive capsulitis:

1. Medical history: Your healthcare provider will ask you questions to understand your symptoms, when they started, and any factors that may have contributed to their onset.

2. Physical examination: Your healthcare provider will assess the range of motion in your shoulder and look for signs of inflammation or swelling. They may also perform specific tests to evaluate the mobility and strength of your shoulder joint.

3. Imaging tests: In some cases, imaging tests such as X-rays, MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), or ultrasound may be ordered to rule out other conditions and to confirm the presence of adhesive capsulitis. These tests can help visualize the structures within the shoulder joint and identify any underlying issues.

It’s worth noting that there is no single definitive test to diagnose adhesive capsulitis, and the diagnosis is primarily based on the combination of symptoms, physical examination findings, and ruling out other potential causes of shoulder pain and stiffness.


The treatment for adhesive capsulitis, or frozen shoulder, typically involves a combination of approaches aimed at reducing pain, improving shoulder mobility, and restoring normal function. Here are some common treatment options that healthcare professionals may recommend:

1. Pain management: Your healthcare provider may suggest over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to help manage the pain associated with adhesive capsulitis. In some cases, they may prescribe stronger pain medications if necessary.

2. Physical therapy: Physical therapy is a key component of treatment for adhesive capsulitis. A physical therapist can guide you through specific exercises and stretches to help improve shoulder mobility and flexibility. These exercises may include range-of-motion exercises, stretching, and strengthening exercises. The therapist may also use techniques like manual therapy or modalities such as heat or ice to help alleviate pain and improve mobility.

3. Injections: In some cases, your healthcare provider may recommend corticosteroid injections into the shoulder joint to help reduce inflammation and pain. These injections can provide temporary relief and may be combined with physical therapy to maximize the benefits.

4. Joint mobilization: Your healthcare provider or physical therapist may perform joint mobilization techniques to help improve the range of motion in your shoulder. These techniques involve applying gentle force to move the joint in specific directions.

5. Surgical intervention: In rare cases where other treatments haven’t been effective, surgery may be considered. Surgical options for adhesive capsulitis include manipulation under anesthesia, where the shoulder is moved forcefully to break up scar tissue, or arthroscopic surgery, where the surgeon removes the scar tissue and releases the tight capsule.

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