Why Does Frozen Shoulder Take So Long to Heal?

Frozen shoulder (adhesive capsulitis) is a long term condition that can lead to chronic pain and stiffness in the affected shoulder. The good news, it is curable. Typically it will improve over time, even maybe without treatment. But many times, it takes so long to heal – why?

How long does frozen shoulder take to heal?

The main symptoms (pain and stiffness) can make your shoulder become painful and difficult in making full range of normal movements. This eventually may affect your daily routines.

image_illustration327Many times, sufferers find difficult to perform daily tasks such as; sleeping in comfortable position, driving, bathing, and dressing. The symptoms can vary, from severe (a condition of when you cannot move the affected shoulder at all) to mild (with little difficulties in daily routines).

And to understand how long it takes to heal, it’s not bad idea to understand the phases of how this joint problem progresses. In general, there are three major phases; freezing, frozen (adhesive), and thawing stages.

Stage one (freezing phase)

The joint of the shoulder is made up of tendons, ligaments, and bones (see the complex structure of your shoulder in here). Most of these structures are surrounded and encased by tough connective tissue called shoulder capsule.

Synovial fluid is usually required to normally lubricate the joint and capsule so thus the joint can move flexibly without pain. Frozen shoulder start to develop when this capsule is thickening and tightening. This phase is called freezing stage.

The thickened and tightened shoulder capsule can be so painful. The pain may strike with any movement or even at rest, and typically it will hurt more at night!

This stage one can last several weeks (about 6 weeks) or even months (9 months). In the end of this phase, the affected joint gradually stiffens, making the joint’s range of motion begin to become limited.

Stage two (frozen phase)

Painful symptoms start to improve and even may actually diminish, though sometime it may return. But the stiffness remains and even will get worse in the stage two. And when the joint becomes even stiffer, the range of motion decreases significantly.

In the frozen phase, daily activities can be very difficult. The joint can be so stiff to move or even you cannot move it at all.

This phase can last in months, typically about 4-12 months. However, the stiffness should not be used for license to take more days of bed rest. Instead, keeping active with the affected joint as much as you could is so recommended in this frozen stage.

Stage three (thawing, recovery phase)

During this phase, some movements with the affected joint return gradually. The pain symptoms may come back occasionally as the stiffness symptoms improve.

Eventually many patients can regain full movement of their shoulder joint. If you are still not able to make it, there should be many more tasks you can do with your shoulder.

The thawing phase usually lasts longer than stage one and stage two. The shortest recovery time is usually about 5 months. But it also can take many years.

So, how long the problem takes to heal can vary. But in general, the symptoms usually get worse gradually, over a number of month or even in years. The recovery goes gradually, too.

Why does it take so long to heal?

As noted before, each phase of frozen shoulder takes months – or even years for thawing phase. It may be not fully understood yet why this joint problem develops gradually and takes so long to recover, but the following are some possible reasons.

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