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What is Frozen Shoulder

What is Frozen Shoulder?

Frozen Shoulder is the commonly used name for a pathology called adhesive capsulitis. The names are often used interchangeably. The capsule which surrounds the shoulder becomes inflamed, thickens, and becomes tight. Scar tissue and adhesions develop that lead to pain and limited range of motion.


Frozen shoulder is known for painful motion and limiting your active and passive range of motion. Active range of motion is whenever you are causing the motion to occur when using your muscles without any assistance. Passive range of motion occurs whenever motion is occurring due to another object moving the body part. Pain often occurs at the end fo your range of motion. In addition, the shoulder can feel stiff.

Who is affected with Frozen Shoulder?

Often, frozen shoulder gets overdiagnosed. True idiopathic frozen shoulder occurs in 2-5% of the general population. Usually, this occurs in women between the ages of 40-60 years old. Scientist do not know exactly why frozen shoulder occurs but have found an increased risk if you have diabetes and thyroid disease.

Will the other shoulder get affected?

If you have frozen shoulder on one side, it is relatively common for the other shoulder to get affected as well later in life. This will occur in 5-34% of people affected with frozen shoulder.

How will it progress?

There are 4 stages of Frozen Shoulder that the shoulder will naturally pass through.

Stage 1: Pre-Adhesive

Stage 2: Freezing

Stage 3: Fibrotic “Frozen”

Stage 4: Thawing

How can Physical Therapy help?

Physical Therapists can offer a wide range of interventions to help decrease pain and stiffness associated with frozen shoulder.

A successful treatment will help to improve your symptoms, satisfaction, and functional motion. Physical therapy has been shown to improve range of motion and decrease the severity of the limitations that occur with “Frozen Shoulder”. Your shoulder will naturally progress through each of the stages. However, you may have more limitations and secondary pain without consistent stretching.

Physical Therapists are knowledgeable about research occurring in the field on various interventions that will help give you the best results. Ask your therapist about options that would work best for you! Physical Therapist's can teach you exercises for stretching and strengthening, joint mobilizations, advise on corticosteroids, and assess if modalities such as E-stem, ultrasound, or dry needling would be helpful for you.


Alana Hamilton Alana Hamilton is a physical therapist at Advantage Physical Therapy in Falls Church, Virginia. She is a proud Hokie from Virginia Tech with a major in Biology and a minor in psychology and sociology. Following graduation, she immediately got her doctorate in Physical Therapy from Radford University. She is an avid fan of Pilates, running, and hiking. On the weekends, she can be found hanging out with her family and baby as well as doing Spartan races with her old physical therapy classmates and friends. She is a big believer that during rehabilitation, "Motion is the Lotion" and that staying active is key to remaining healthy.

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