Frozen Shoulder Syndrome: Upper Back Issues & Causes


  • “Frozen shoulder syndrome” is the common name given for “adhesive capsulitis.”
  • In this condition, the shoulder joint is restricted. While the underlying cause is typically unknown, the restriction is likely due to inflammation and scar tissue and a lack of synovial fluid.


  • It is more common “among people with systemic diseases such as diabetes.” (Beth Spindler)
  • It may occur after having an arm immobilized after a break or surgery.
  • It is more common among women than men.
  • It’s more common after the age of 40.
  • Nina Zolotow reports here that in Japan, frozen shoulder is considered a problem related to menopause.


  • Symptoms include varying degrees of stiffness and pain when moving the arm in most directions and with passive movement.
  • The phases of “freezing, frozen and thawing are the hallmark pattern of frozen shoulder” says David Keil here, which typically last from one to three and a half years.
  • Keil describes the stages as typically beginning with soreness followed by a lessening of pain but a decrease in ROM and then a final phase of symptoms resolving. “This whole process is somewhat resistant to treatment effecting a more rapid recovery, so treatment is more focused on managing the process and optimizing recovery rather than a cure.

Diagnosis Needed

  • It is considered too tricky to diagnose without professional assistance because it can be accompanied by other shoulder issues and may be an effect of other trauma to the shoulder. (Baxter Bell)
  • David Keil cautions that frozen shoulder and rotator cuff injuries can be confused. The differentiator he teaches here is that passive movement is not painful in the case of a torn rotator cuff, but in a frozen shoulder, “even somebody else moving your arm for you is often painful.”

The Importance of Diagnosis

Those with a diagnosis of frozen shoulder will actually have to move into the range of motion that starts to be painful, and gradually increase the range of motion over time, even if it hurts. In contrast, this would not be the case, for those with a rotator cuff tear that has not been fixed. This means you really need to get your shoulder issues fully checked out by a good orthopedic doctor before you can know what to avoid! – Baxter Bell