Frozen shoulder - Symptoms 

Symptoms of frozen shoulder 

Pain and persistent stiffness in the shoulder joint are the two main symptoms of a frozen shoulder.

This makes it painful and difficult to carry out the full range of normal shoulder movements. You may find it difficult to perform everyday tasks, such as:

  • bathing
  • dressing
  • driving
  • sleeping comfortably

Symptoms vary from mild, with little difference to daily activities, to severe, where it may not be possible to move your shoulder at all.

You should see your GP if you think you have a frozen shoulder, or if you have persistent shoulder pain that limits your movement.

Stages of frozen shoulder

The symptoms of a frozen shoulder usually get worse gradually, over a number of months or years.

There are three separate stages to the condition (see below), but sometimes these stages may be difficult to distinguish. The symptoms may also vary greatly from person to person.

Stage one

During stage one, often referred to as the "freezing" phase, your shoulder will start to ache and become very painful when reaching out for things.

The pain is often worse at night and when you lie on the affected side. This stage often lasts for two to nine months.

Stage two

Stage two is often known as the "frozen" phase. Your shoulder may become increasingly stiff, but the pain does not usually get worse and may even decrease.

Your shoulder muscles may start to waste away slightly because they are not being used. This stage usually lasts 4 to 12 months.

Stage three

Stage three is the "thawing" phase. During this period, you will gradually regain some movement in your shoulder. The pain will begin to fade, although it may come back occasionally as the stiffness eases.

You may not regain full movement of your shoulder, but you will be able to carry out many more tasks. Stage three can last from five months to many years.

Page last reviewed: 17/03/2014

Next review due: 17/03/2016

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