Frozen Shoulder: Beyond just REALLY Ignoring Someone

By Chad Garvey, PT, DPT

          Imagine living your life with only 1 arm.  You can’t reach overhead into a cabinet and even getting your shirt on over your head or into a jacket is a pain. For women, this also means not being able to latch their bra behind their back.  For those with shoulder pain, a very common problem bringing people to the doctor, these are just some of their complaints.  However, many times shoulder pain can disappear and their function will improve within a month or so.

For those with frozen shoulder, otherwise known as adhesive capsulitis (AC), these problems can drag on for up to 1 year, and sometimes even longer.

Frozen shoulder characteristics:

  • Affects about 2% of the population, mostly between the ages of 40-60
  • Occurs more often in women than men
  • Occurs more often in folks with diabetes or thyroid dysfunction
  • Can occur after prolonged immobilization from an injury or surgery, but also can occur without injury


AC happens in 3 stages:

  1. Freezing:  The shoulder starts out as achy and stiff, and the pain can rapidly progress where the shoulder is very painful to move, with sleep being lost.
  1. Frozen:  At this point, the pain has stopped worsening, but the shoulder is stiff enough where any overhead or behind the back or head movement is very difficult.
  1. Thawing:  The shoulder gradually becomes less painful and range of motion is slowly restored, sometimes taking up to 1 year.

AC is typically managed best if caught early, as the process is thought to be inflammatory in nature, getting a heavy dose of anti-inflammatory medication, steroids, and/or a steroid injection, can really help manage the early inflammation and pain.

Pairing this with early physical therapy after the medicine kicks in, specifically hands on therapy and exercise to the shoulder, shoulder blade, and spine, can rapidly improve a person’s function early on before the frozen phase sets in.

Remember, it is important that if you begin having an achy and stiff shoulder that isn’t better in 2 weeks, see your physician or physical therapist to avoid the otherwise long road to recovery!

Image from:

Chad Garvey, PT, DPT is a physical therapist at KORT.  For more information, contact Dr. Garvey at



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *