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Treating Frozen Shoulder: Medical Treatment

To treat a frozen shoulder, stretches are tried first. If stretches alone don’t help, your doctor may suggest adding other treatments. Keep in mind that no treatment replaces shoulder stretches. After any of these treatments, you’ll need to start your exercises again as advised by your doctor.

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Arthroscopic capsular release may free the capsule and ligaments (area shown above with dotted line).

Injection Therapy

Your doctor may suggest injection therapy. This does not cure frozen shoulder. But it may reduce pain, so you can do your stretches more comfortably. The injection typically includes two medications. One is an anesthetic to numb the shoulder. The other is cortisone to help reduce painful swelling. It can take from a few hours to a couple of days before the injection starts to have an effect.

Surgical Treatment

Surgery may be suggested if stretching doesn’t relieve your pain and stiffness. In some cases, both procedures described below are done at the same time.

  • Manipulation. Your doctor slowly raises your arm until the capsule and ligaments are freed (released). The capsule is the sheet of tough fibers that surrounds the bones that make up the shoulder joint. The ligaments are the tough tissue that connects these bones.

  • Capsular release. Your doctor frees the capsule and ligaments through an incision. This may be done if manipulation did not release the capsule. Surgery on the shoulder may be done through a few small incisions. This is called arthroscopic surgery. Or, it may be done through one large incision. This is known as open surgery.

You may start doing shoulder stretches soon after manipulation and capsular release—perhaps even the same day. Your doctor will discuss the plan for your treatment and stretches before the procedure.

Online Medical Reviewer: Bechtold, C Dustin, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Mitchell, Bryan Sean, MD
Last Review Date: 10/31/2011
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