What is Frozen Shoulder

By Ella Guest – Sports Injury Specialist

What is a Frozen Shoulder? 

Frozen shoulder, also known as adhesive capsulitis or shoulder contracture is a condition that leads to pain and stiffness of the shoulder. Typically, you’ll experience shoulder pain which can become more severe over a number of months. This is usually followed by increasing stiffness. The stiffness may affect your ability to carry out everyday activities and in more severe cases, you may not be able to move your shoulder at all.


Frozen shoulder occurs when the flexible tissue that surrounds the shoulder joint, known as the capsule, becomes inflamed and thickened. It’s not fully understood why this process happens and it remains a subject of ongoing research, but various factors can contribute to its development. This condition can appear without any apparent reason and tends to strike individuals between the ages of 40 and 60 with women being slightly more affected than men. Your risk of developing a frozen shoulder can increase if you have:

  • A previous shoulder injury or have had shoulder surgery
  • Prolonged periods of immobilisation
  • Diabetes
  • Underactive/overactive thyroid
  • Other health conditions, such as heart disease and stroke


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.

Stages of Frozen Shoulder

The “freezing” stage – During this stage your shoulder starts to ache and can become very painful, for example, when reaching out for things. The pain is often worse at night when you lie on the affected side. This stage can last anywhere from 2-9 months.

The “frozen” stage – During this stage your shoulder may become increasingly stiff, the pain doesn’t usually get worse and may even decrease. The stiffness in your shoulder can continue to affect your day-to-day activities. This stage usually lasts 4-12 months.

The “thawing” stage – During this period, you’ll gradually regain movement in your shoulder. If pain is still present it should start to fade, although it may come back occasionally as the stiffness eases. This stage can last 12 months or more.


For a frozen shoulder to be diagnosed you’ll need an assessment from a healthcare professional. Your session will involve a physical examination, a review of medical history, and if appropriate imaging tests like X-rays or MRI scans to rule out other potential causes of shoulder pain and stiffness. Your range of movement will be assessed, and your symptoms will be discussed to arrive at an accurate diagnosis.


Effectively managing frozen shoulder can be challenging, but several treatment options can alleviate symptoms and restore mobility. Physical therapy involving gentle exercises and stretches can improve mobility and alleviate pain. Medications, ranging from over-the-counter pain relievers or prescribed medication for pain and inflammation management, are often employed. Applying heat or ice to the affected area may also help reduce pain and inflammation. In some cases, corticosteroid injections into the shoulder joint provides relief.

If you are suffering with shoulder pain and would like any help or advice from our physiotherapists or sports injury therapists, please contact our reception team on 01454 838366 or book online at www.thethornburyclinic.co.uk.

If you would like advice on Frozen Shoulder or would like to book an appointment with RElla, why not visit her in either our Thornbury Clinic.