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September 27, 2022 Bones & Joints

What to Know About Frozen Shoulder

It’s a very frustrating diagnosis for people, because it’s a journey and a process to get the motion back. It takes time. But if you remain dedicated to the program at ThedaCare Medical Center-Orthopedic, Spine and Pain, the overwhelming majority of people get through it without having to have a surgery.

Dr. Eric Erickson, Orthopedic Surgeon, ThedaCare

When it comes to shoulder pain, people might expect discomfort to arise from an injury or a chronic issue with the joint. What they might not expect is traumatic shoulder pain that happens without any apparent reason. 

“In 2022, we still can’t tell you why frozen shoulder occurs,” says ThedaCare Orthopedic Surgeon Dr. Eric Erickson.  

When frozen shoulder develops, the lining of the joint becomes inflamed and contracted, causing pain and loss of motion and pliability. The problem often gets worse over time, causing discomfort that makes it hard to get a good night’s sleep. 

Eventually — usually within 18 months to two years — a frozen shoulder can “thaw out,” and motion improves while pain diminishes, Dr. Erickson says. 

While the cause is unknown, it most commonly impacts middle-aged people and usually affects the non-dominant arm. People with diabetes are at higher risk of developing frozen shoulder, and sometimes it can happen to both shoulders at once, Dr. Erickson says. 

Even though frozen shoulder can get better without care, the loss of range of motion can get in the way of daily activities — and two years is a long time to be in pain. The good news is that treatment options are available. Often, physical therapy and an ultrasound-guided injection of cortisone are enough to do the trick. 

“It doesn’t resolve overnight. It takes time, but then they get through the process, and they’re not waiting 18 months or two years to get through it,” Dr. Erickson says. 

In his practice at ThedaCare Medical Center-Orthopedic, Spine and Pain, Dr. Erickson sees patients every week who are suffering from frozen shoulder. Once that diagnosis is made, he can collaborate with other providers within the same building and refer his patients for needed care.  

“It’s very common for me to arrange for them right at that moment to have them see one of our primary care sports medicine doctors, who will do an ultrasound-guided cortisone injection,” he says. 

For the small percentage of patients whose pain and lack of motion remains unresolved by cortisone injections and physical therapy, surgical options are available. During the arthroscopic surgery, the tight tissue is released and the joint is re-expanded. After surgery, people work with physical therapists to maintain that restored motion. 

“It’s a very frustrating diagnosis for people, because it’s a journey and a process to get the motion back,” Dr. Erickson says. “It takes time. But if you remain dedicated to the program at ThedaCare Medical Center-Orthopedic, Spine and Pain, the overwhelming majority of people get through it without having to have a surgery.” 

ThedaCare Medical Center-Orthopedic, Spine and Pain offers expert care and the latest tools and technologies to help patients get back to doing the activities they love. Surgery, physical therapy, acute care and other services are all available at the center.

Experiencing Frozen Shoulder?

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