How is frozen shoulder diagnosed?

The diagnosis of frozen shoulder is made only after a careful history and physical examination is performed. Pain and loss of motion can be symptoms of many shoulder conditions, so a detailed assessment of the shoulder's full range of motion is important. A history of surgery or injury, or the presence of illnesses such as diabetes, is information the physician needs in order to make the correct diagnosis.

It is important to recognize the different patterns of motion loss. Primary adhesive capsulitis is usually associated with loss of motion in all directions. Secondary adhesive capsulitis more often has more defined loss of motion; affecting some movements, but not others.

In most cases, the history and examination are sufficient to determine the presence or absence of frozen shoulder. Imaging may occasionally be necessary to confirm the diagnosis and to identify other underlying problems.

  • X-rays cannot reveal the cause of shoulder stiffness in most cases of primary adhesive capsulitis. However, in secondary adhesive capsulitis, X-rays can show signs of arthritis, fractures, or metallic plates that may be contributing to motion loss.
  • An MRI (Magnetic Resonance Image) shows soft tissue and may be used in cases in which another disorder is suspected, such as a rotator cuff tear.
  • An arthrogram may be used with an MRI to provide further information about structures in the shoulder. A dye is injected into the shoulder and images are obtained. The dye creates a contrast on the image, making the specific location of adhesions and the reduced space typical of frozen shoulder more visible.

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