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Dr. Robert Sciortino, St. Luke's Hospital

Frozen shoulder: A common disorder affecting more women than men

Each year, millions of people in the U.S. visit their doctors due to shoulder-related problems. Most of the time, these ailments include arm sprains, strains or rotator cuff issues. Many of these injuries are the result of activity, mainly actions that require repetitive overhead motion such as pitching, swimming and playing tennis.

One of the more common disorders affecting the shoulder is adhesive capsulitis, otherwise known as "frozen shoulder." Its symptoms include dull or aching pain that gets worse as the person continues to use that arm. The pain is usually located over the outer shoulder and upper arm. With continued irritation, the shoulder becomes progressively stiffer, and the range of motion is greatly decreased. In some cases, the shoulder is completely immobile, which makes it difficult to do everyday tasks.

The causes of this condition are often unclear, and it can be the result of a minor injury or, in some cases, no injury at all. Women are more likely than men to become affected by frozen shoulder, with some estimates as high as double the risk.

For those who experience frozen shoulder, they can expect to go through a three-stage progression of the disorder. The first stage, known as the "freezing" stage, typically lasts six weeks to nine months and occurs when a person begins to notice limited range of motion and pain. The next stage, called the "frozen" stage, is identified by less pain but continued stiffness for the next four to six months. Finally, a person will progress through the "thawing" stage, a time within the next six months to two years when shoulder motion improves and a return to normal activity

There are certain people, not limited to women, who are at an increased risk for developing frozen shoulder. They include stroke, diabetic and tuberculosis patients and those who are recovering from surgery. In addition, those who are 40 and older and anyone with tendonitis or a shoulder injury are also at risk. The majority of people with frozen shoulder will improve with medications, physical therapy or shoulder injections, however, in some cases, shoulder manipulation or surgery is needed.

Dr. Robert Sciortino specializes in orthopedic and shoulder surgery at St. Luke's Hospital. To register for a free orthopedic event October 4, 2012 covering shoulder, hip, knee, hand and sports medicine injuries, call 314-542-4848 or visit the orthopedic event page .

This article was published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on September 20, 2012.