Houston Methodist. Leading Medicine

Shoulder FAQ


I don't know what's happening to my arm. All of a sudden, my shoulder is stiffening up and I'm losing my ability to raise my arm over my head. What could be causing this?


Anytime there is a sudden onset of symptoms with no known cause, it is referred to as an insidious onset. In such cases, a medical examination is advised. It could be nothing more serious than a pulled muscle. But arm pain and loss of motion can also be caused by adhesive capsulitis (frozen shoulder). Although less likely, a silent heart attack, stroke, or diabetes must also be considered. What causes a frozen shoulder? Experts are not entirely sure yet. Women between the ages of 40 and 60 are affected most often. Changes in the synovium (fluid lubricating the joint) have been observed in adhesive capsulitis (in both sexes). This may occur without a known cause. Or a secondary frozen shoulder can develop after an injury such as a fracture, soft tissue damage, or surgery. Sometimes changes occur in the shoulder joint as a result of osteoarthritis that can also lead to adhesive capsulitis. Taking a microscopic look at the tissue around frozen shoulders released while the patient was under anesthesia, scientists found signs of chronic inflammation. Specific inflammatory cells such as mast cells, T cells, B cells, and macrophages were present. Other studies have shown that vimentin (a cellular protein) is present whenever the anterior shoulder capsule is involved. Most of the time, adhesive capsulitis comes on more slowly. But in up to one-third of all cases, patients report a situation like yours with rapid onset over a period of 24 to 48 hours. No matter what's causing your new symptoms, don't delay in getting a diagnosis. Let your physician have a chance to rule out the more serious causes. Hopefully, it will be a minor problem that's easily treated. Peter C. Lapner, and George S. Athwal, MD, FRCSC. Shoulder: The Stiff Shoulder: How, Why, and When to Treat. In Current Orthopaedic Practice. September/October 2008. Vol. 19. No. 5. Pp. 538-541.

*Disclaimer:* The information contained herein is compiled from a variety of sources. It may not be complete or timely. It does not cover all diseases, physical conditions, ailments or treatments. The information should NOT be used in place of visit with your healthcare provider, nor should you disregard the advice of your health care provider because of any information you read in this topic.
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