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Stiff Shoulder

Common Causes of Shoulder Stiffness

Stiff shoulder causes pain and discomfort in those who suffer from it, and occur as a result of several conditions, including trauma and arthritis. Patients suffering from stiff shoulder typically experience dull, persistent pain in the shoulder and a marked loss of range of motion, which can effect even basic everyday activities, such as dressing and hygiene.

The two most common causes of stiff shoulder are adhesive capsulitis, or “frozen shoulder,” and shoulder arthritis. Individuals experiencing frozen shoulder cannot lift their arms above their head, even with assistance, and often cannot stretch their arms behind their back. The exact cause of frozen shoulder is not clear, and the condition may occur at any time without warning. Frozen shoulder occurs when the tissue capsule surrounding the shoulder joint inexplicably contracts and forms scar tissue. The condition may resolve on its own, but the recovery process is very long.

The second most common cause of stiff shoulder is shoulder arthritis, which occurs when the joint surface begins to wear away, leaving the joint with a rough surface that makes movement painful and limited. Additionally, patients with shoulder arthritis may develop bone spurs, which can further impede shoulder motion.

Trauma can also cause stiff shoulder conditions, especially trauma which involves the top of the upper arm bone, or humerus, the shoulder socket, or the rotator cuff. This condition can also occur after shoulder surgery as scar tissue forms near the surgery site. This type of stiff shoulder condition is commonly referred to as post-traumatic stiff shoulder. Injuries which involve the ribs, chest wall, or shoulder blades can also result in scar tissue which can cause stiff shoulder.

Many stiff shoulder sufferers are diagnosed with shoulder bursitis or tendinitis. These relatively common conditions occur when the tendons or other soft structures of the shoulder joint become inflamed, making movement painful. These conditions often occur as a result of trauma or overuse. Typically, the symptoms of shoulder bursitis or tendinitis are the same: pain experienced when the arms are raised above the head; pain when sleeping on the shoulder; and pain on the outside of the shoulder and often extending into the upper arm.


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