Introduction 

Frozen shoulder is a condition that leads to pain and stiffness of the shoulder. It is also known as adhesive capsulitis or shoulder contracture.

The symptoms tend to gradually get worse over a number of months or years. You will typically experience shoulder pain for the first two to nine months, which can be severe, followed by increasing stiffness.

The stiffness may affect your ability to carry out everyday activities and, in particularly severe cases, you may not be able to move your shoulder at all.

The condition may improve with time, but this can sometimes take several years.

Read more about the symptoms of frozen shoulder.

When to see your GP

You should visit your GP if you have persistent shoulder pain that limits your movement.

The earlier frozen shoulder is diagnosed, the more likely it is that treatment can help prevent long-term pain and stiffness.

Read more about diagnosing frozen shoulder.

What causes frozen shoulder?

Frozen shoulder occurs when the flexible tissue that surrounds the shoulder joint, known as the capsule, becomes inflamed and thickened. It is not fully understood why this happens.

The following can increase your risk of developing a frozen shoulder:

It is estimated that up to 1 in 20 people in the UK may be affected by frozen shoulder at some point in their life. Most people who get frozen shoulder are between the ages of 40 and 60. The condition is more common in women than men.

Read more about the causes of frozen shoulder.

How frozen shoulder is treated

Most people with frozen shoulder will eventually get better, even without treatment. However, appropriate treatment can help reduce pain and improve the movement in your shoulder until it heals.

The type of treatment you receive will depend on how severe your frozen shoulder is and how far it has progressed.

Painkillers, corticosteroid injections, shoulder exercises and physiotherapy are all possible treatment options. If your symptoms have not improved after six months, surgery may be recommended.

Read more about treating frozen shoulder.

Shoulder pain

A physiotherapist explains what you can do to prevent and ease shoulder pain, and when to get help from an expert.

Media last reviewed: 17/11/2014

Next review due: 17/11/2016

10 surefire ways to beat pain

Practical ways to beat pain, including relaxation tips, breathing exercises and self management courses

Page last reviewed: 17/03/2014

Next review due: 17/03/2016