Houston Methodist. Leading Medicine

Shoulder FAQ

Question:

I was in the cardiac intensive care unit for three weeks after a very severe heart attack. Ever since then I haven't been able to move my arm over head. The doctor says it's a "frozen shoulder." Nothing shows on the X-ray, so what's frozen?

Answer:

Frozen shoulder or adhesive capsulitis is a term used for a shoulder that doesn't move freely like it should. Often there is a history of injury, surgery, or other reason why the patient stopped moving the arm and shoulder.

Frozen shoulder is not uncommon after being in the intensive care unit. Patients are connected to machines and often unable to move. Patients getting a heart pacemaker or heart bypass are told not to lift the arms over head for up to six weeks after the operation.

When no movement occurs in a joint, tiny fibers link the joint capsule to the bone. This keeps the joint from moving freely. The condition is a form of scar tissue called fibrosis and leads to a frozen shoulder. Since it's all soft tissue, there are no changes in the bone and nothing shows up on the X-ray.

Gianluca Castellarin, MD, et al. Manipulation and Arthroscopy Under General Anesthesia and Early Rehabilitative Treatment for Frozen Shoulders. In Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. August 2004. Vol. 85. No. 8. Pp. 1236-1240.

*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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