Signs and Symptoms of Frozen Shoulder

There are several shoulder conditions that cause pain and reduced motion. The diagnosis of the frozen shoulder should come from a provider who is well versed in differentiating various shoulder maladies. The primary symptoms of frozen shoulder are pain and stiffness. Pain may be worse at night and is provoked by laying on the affected shoulder. As the shoulder loses its motion, even normal activities like dressing, answering the phone, or working will become difficult.

Frozen shoulders have three distinct stages of progression. Each stage typically takes months to progress. The normal progression of the frozen shoulder through all three stages is between six months and two years. Without a purposeful effort to restore motion, the effects of a frozen shoulder may become permanent.

The Three stages of Frozen Shoulder Progression

  • Painful Stage: Shoulder pain is the hallmark of this stage. It starts gradually and progressively worsens.
  • Frozen Stage: Pain may reduce in this stage, although shoulder stiffness and restriction increase. Shoulder range of motion is dramatically reduced.
  • Thawing Stage: This stage is characterized by spontaneous “thawing.” The motion will gradually increase and the shoulder will be more responsive to stretching exercises and treatment.

The three-phase progression of frozen shoulder tends to progress regardless of treatment interventions. In spite of an almost inevitable progression of this condition, it appears that maintaining motion and mobility throughout the progression of this malady reduces the permanent loss in motion that may result from a bout with a frozen shoulder.

One of the primary treatment concerns with frozen shoulder is managing the patient’s frustration and adjusting expectations. There will be pain and slow progression during the healing process and some patients will have a lasting impairment. Healing may be a long slow process fraught with periods of pain and reduced shoulder function.