Frozen Shoulder - Symptoms & Risk Factors

Frozen shoulder, also known as adhesive capsulitis, is a common, painful condition that affects the ability to move the shoulder. It reduces normal movement in the joint and, in some cases, it can prevent movement in the shoulder altogether. Pain and stiffness in the shoulder are the most common symptoms of a frozen shoulder.

Most cases of frozen shoulder occur in people between the ages of 40 and 60. The condition is more common in women than in men. It is estimated that a frozen shoulder could affect up to 1 in 20 people.

You may find it difficult to carry out everyday tasks, such as:

  • dressing

  • driving

  • sleeping comfortably

Some people find they are unable to move their shoulder at all, which is why the condition is known as a frozen shoulder.

Stages of Frozen Shoulder

The symptoms of a frozen shoulder advance slowly and are usually experienced in three separate stages that are spread over a number of months or years. However, the symptoms of frozen shoulder can vary greatly from person to person.

The three stages of frozen shoulder are described below.

Stage one

During stage one, your shoulder will start to ache and will feel stiff before becoming very painful. The pain is often worse at night and when you lie on the affected side. This stage lasts two to nine months.

Stage two

Stage two is known as the adhesive stage. Your shoulder may become increasingly stiff, but the pain will not usually get worse. Your shoulder muscles may start to waste slightly because they are not being used. This stage lasts four to twelve months.

Stage three

Stage three is the recovery stage. During this stage, you will gradually regain movement in your shoulder. The pain will begin to fade, although it may recur from time to time as the stiffness eases.

Although you may not regain full movement of your shoulder, you will be able to do many more tasks. Stage three can last five months to three or four years.

Risk Factors

There are several risk factors that make developing a frozen shoulder more likely.

Shoulder Injury or Surgery

It is possible to develop a frozen shoulder following a shoulder or arm injury, such as a broken bone (fracture) or after having surgery to your shoulder area.

This may be because keeping your arm and shoulder immobile (still) for long periods of time during your recovery may cause your shoulder capsule to tighten up from lack of use. For this reason, it is important not to ignore a painful injury to your shoulder area and to always visit your GP.


If you have diabetes (a long-term condition caused by too much glucose in the blood), you are more likely to develop a frozen shoulder. The exact reason for this is unknown. If you have diabetes, you are also more likely to: develop the condition in both your shoulders have more severe symptoms. It is estimated that around a third of people with diabetes have a frozen shoulder.

Other Health Conditions

Your risk of developing a frozen shoulder may also be increased by having other health conditions including:

heart disease, where the heart's blood supply is blocked or interrupted lung disease, which affects your airways overactive thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism), where the thyroid gland, which is found in your neck, produces too many hormones (powerful chemicals). Parkinson's disease a chronic (long-term) condition that affects the way the brain co-ordinates body movements, including walking, talking and writing stroke, a  when the blood supply to the brain is disturbed or interrupted. Dupuytren's contracture a condition that causes your fingers to bend into the palm of your hand due to the thickening and shortening of the tissue in your palm.


Being immobile (not moving) for a long period of time is also a risk factor for frozen shoulder. This can occur if you are in a hospital, for example after having a stroke or car accident. 

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