Causes of Frozen Shoulder

Causes of Frozen Shoulder

by Stephanie Meadows

The shoulder is an extremely complex ball and socket joint, and happens to have the greatest range of motion of any joint in the body. However, this large range of motion can cause the shoulder to become unstable, leading to joint problems and the site of multiple injuries.

If you have ever experienced shoulder pain, you know how debilitating that can be. However, sometimes your shoulder will mysteriously stiffen and become “frozen.” This condition known as adhesive capsulitis, or frozen shoulder, is characterized by how the shoulder sticks or develops a stickiness in the shoulder capsule.

Frozen shoulder is more a disease than a musculoskeletal problem. It is not an overuse injury, but the opposite. Frozen shoulder is brought on by immobilization from being in a cast or sling, but also by trauma, or conditions such as bursitis, arthritis, or a rotator cuff tear. After an injury, you may have to rest your shoulder for weeks or even months at a time depending on the injury. During this process, the muscles and tendons tend to lock up.

In other words, frozen shoulder is a condition that occurs when the glenohumeral joint (GH) loses mobility, or becomes frozen. When someone has frozen shoulder, the muscles of the GH joint contract. The main cause of frozen shoulder is when the body tightens the musculature or muscles around the shoulder and freezes the joint, in this case, the glenohumeral joint.

There are four stages of motion to frozen shoulder.

Stage 1: This stage is called pre-freezing. During this stage, symptoms usually last approximately three months, and is characterized by sharp pain and aches when immobiled. 

Stage 2: This stage is called freezing. In this stage, symptoms usually have been there for about 3 to 9 months. In the freezing stage, there will most likely be a loss of mobility in the shoulder, and an increase in pain.

Stage 3: This stage is called the frozen stage. In this stage, your symptoms usually have been there for about 9 to 14 months. During the frozen stage, your shoulder becomes immobile and stiff.

Stage 4: This stage is called the thawing stage. In this stage, your symptoms usually have been there for 12 to 15 months. Your shoulder will have a limited range of mobility, but pain is decreasing, allowing you to participate in more activities.

To learn more about frozen shoulder, and if you may have it, call Powell & Jones Orthopedics Center at (205) 877-9191 to request an appointment, or request one online.