What is Frozen Shoulder?

Have you noticed you can’t reach up or back with your arm? Is it painful to even try? You may be experiencing frozen shoulder. Frozen shoulder is a common but painful condition that involves a gradual increase in shoulder stiffness. It leads to a loss of range of motion and impact your daily function. 

Orthopaedic Hospital of Wisconsin physical therapist Kevin Campion, PT, MPT, describes this painful condition and the treatment options you may have to get your shoulder function back to an optimal level. 

What is Frozen Shoulder?


Adhesive capsulitis, or frozen shoulder, occurs when the shoulder becomes inflamed. The shoulder is a ball and socket joint that contains two bones held together by soft tissues wrapped around them. This soft tissue is called a capsule, and normally, it is very mobile. When the capsule becomes inflamed, it thickens, is very tight, and won’t stretch. This prohibits the arm from moving.


Commonly, frozen shoulder is described as three phases:

  1. Freezing – You slowly lose motion with high pain. 
  2. Frozen – Less pain, but the shoulder remains very stiff.   
  3. Thawing – You slowly regain range of motion.

Each stage can last months, and the entire process can last from one to three years. 

Why Does it Happen? 

There is no root cause for frozen shoulder, and the overall process is not fully understood. The condition is more likely to occur if you have an injury or surgery to the shoulder and cannot move it for a while. 

Other risk factors include:

  • diabetes
  • hypo or hyperthyroidism
  • being female
  • being over 40 years old

How Do You Treat Frozen Shoulder?

It is necessary to see a doctor or physical therapist to diagnose and treat frozen shoulder. A professional can also tell if there may be another shoulder condition present. An x-ray is a helpful tool that may rule out the other causes of shoulder pain. 

Treatment usually consists of anti-inflammatory medication (NSAIDs) to control the pain, alongside exercise to improve your range of motion. A physical therapist will advise you on the stretches you need and the progressions. 

Some doctors may recommend injections, manipulation, or surgery to cut out the adhesions of the capsule in severe cases. Commonly, a patient will say they have been living with a problem for months and think it will just go away soon, but it doesn’t. Delay in treatment may cause a progression in the severity of your condition. 

If you experience a painful shoulder that you struggle to lift and have a decreased range of motion, do not delay reaching out to one of our skilled orthopedic professionals. The Orthopaedic Hospital of Wisconsin is home to talented physical therapists and doctors who can help you assess and treat your frozen shoulder or any other painful orthopedic condition. 

Making an appointment is simple. Go online to our appointment request form, or feel free to call any of our locations to set up your appointment today.