Saturday, March 26, 2011

Shoulder: arthritic or frozen?


There are three common conditions of the shoulder that are often confused: rotator cuff tear, shoulder arthritis and frozen shoulder. Shoulder stiffness is a common symptom of each of them. Shoulder stiffness is diagnosed as shown here.

A detailed discussion of rotator cuff problems can be found here.

A detailed discussion of shoulder arthritis can be found here. The reasons for stiffness in arthritis are shown here. The photo below shows an arthritic humeral head as seen at surgery.


A frozen shoulder is, like shoulder arthritis, one of the conditions that can result in a stiff shoulder. The difference is that in a frozen shoulder, the joint surfaces are normal and the shoulder motion is limited because the tissue around the joint - the joint capsule - has tightened down. Frozen shoulders are thought to arise from inflammation within the joint. Frozen shoulders can be particularly problematic in individuals with diabetes. It was once believed that frozen shoulder was associated with personality disorders, but recent evidence does not support this contention. We diagnose a frozen shoulder when the shoulder has limited motion, without a history of prior injury or surgery and with AP and Axillary x-rays showing a normal joint space as diagrammed below.



Frozen shoulders usually respond to home exercises. If this is not successful, consideration can be given to a gentle manipulation under full muscle relaxation and anesthesia. If this is not successful an arthroscopic or open surgical release of the tight capsule can be considered.


To learn more about shoulder arthritis and what can be done about it, see the Shoulder Arthritis Book.

To learn more about the rotator cuff, see the Rotator Cuff Book

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