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Why did I end up with a frozen shoulder

Q: How in the world did I end up with a frozen shoulder? I'm 36-years-old, very healthy, and athletic. But one day I woke up with a stiff shoulder and the rest is history. Three years later and I am still struggling to get back to 'normal.'

A: Adhesive capsulitis, sometimes called a "frozen shoulder" still baffles physicians and scientists alike. No one knows what really causes it -- or how to treat it. Women, age over 40, and shoulder injuries (trauma) head the list of possible risk factors.

But adults of both sexes (male and female) who have serious health problems such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke, or thyroid conditions have a higher incidence of adhesive capsulitis than the general adult population.

The problem comes on gradually causing pain, loss of shoulder motion, and decreased function. It disrupts the person's life during the "frozen" stage. And then the problem goes away as mysteriously as it came on. These three stages (freezing, frozen, and thawing) can last anywhere from months to years. In the end, most people come out okay without any major long-lasting effects.

In the three years you have had this shoulder problem, have you had medical testing to rule out the possibility of other causes such as diabetes or thyroid problems? Have you had a thorough musculoskeletal examination to identify other potential sources of the shoulder problem?

Spinal alignment, posture, muscle asymmetries are just a few things that could contribute to the start of the shoulder problem. Unrecognized repetitive motions or unusual carrying angle of the head, neck, shoulder complex could be factors.

In the end, your frozen shoulder may remain as much of a mystery as this same condition in many other adults. In fact, studies show that up to five per cent of the adult population are affected by this problem. That figure may actually be higher since not all people with this type of shoulder problem report it or seek help for it.

Reference: Michael J. Griesser, MD, et al. Adhesive Capsulitis of the Shoulder. A Systematic Review of the Effectiveness of Intra-Articular Corticosteroid Injections. In The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery. September 21, 2011. Vol. 93A. No. 19. Pp. 1727-1733.

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