Adhesive capsulitis, or commonly, “frozen shoulder syndrome”, is a very painful inflammatory ailment. It progressively limits the movements of the shoulder, until it becomes totally rigid. This syndrome mainly affects women between 35 and 55 years old.
Sometimes this ailment does not get diagnosed in time because its symptoms closely resemble those of a generic inflammation or simply of a neck pain. For this reason, delays in the diagnosis may extend the healing time.
We asked Doctor Mario Borroni, a specialist in Shoulder and Elbow Orthopedy at Humanitas.

What are its symptoms?

The disease develops through three main phases:

  • In the first phase, generally lasting three or four months, the “freezing” takes place. This is the progressive loss of movement in the shoulder and the worsening of the pain.
  • In the second phase, generally lasting four months to one year, the pain slightly subsides but the rigidity in the shoulder persists. In the most severe cases, the hand may become numb too.
  • The third phase is the “defrost phase”, generally lasting one to three years. This is the time of partial or total recovery of movement, and normality is gradually restored.

What are the causes of frozen shoulders?

This condition happens when the connective tissue capsule (that is to say, the structure that regulates the movements of the shoulder together with the tendons) shrinks and gets inflamed, thus impeding a normal functioning.

Some studies reveal that people suffering from diabetes are more likely to develop this disease. The same may apply for people suffering from autoimmune diseases or thyroid ailments.

Lastly, also forced immobilization for a certain amount of time, due to accidents or surgeries to shoulders or breasts, may play a role.

Options of treatment

The timely treatment of the disease is paramount to reduce rapidly the pain and accelerate the healing process and the restoration of movement.

“Generally, the evolution of adhesive capsulitis is benign, and may even heal spontaneously. In order to treat the first symptoms, we generally prescribe an oral cortisone therapy and we recommend patients to try to move their arm as much as possible, to avoid the additional rigidity of the joint. In this initial phase, the sporadic use of a brace may also be useful to limit the pain. Patients may also undergo a therapy based on interferential currents.
When it is possible, patients should go to a physiotherapist to restore the functions and mobility of the joint. In fact, it is paramount to avoid worsening the rigidity of the shoulder.
If the therapies are not sufficient and the pain hinders the daily activities of the patient, an arthroscopic surgery may be the right solution. However, this happens quite rarely”, Doctor Borroni concluded.