Shoulder Arthritis and Frozen Shoulder: What’s the Difference?

Dr.Ajay Krishna P B.A.M.S

Your shoulder is a complex structure composed of three main bones:

  1. Upper Arm Bone (Humerus): This is the long bone in your upper arm.
  2. Shoulder Blade (Scapula): The shoulder blade is a flat, triangular bone situated in your upper back, and it plays a crucial role in your shoulder’s movement.
  3. Collarbone (Clavicle): The collarbone is a slender bone that connects your breastbone (sternum) to your shoulder blade.

The upper arm bone fits into a rounded socket located in the shoulder blade, and this socket is known as the glenoid. The shoulder’s stability and movement are maintained by a combination of muscles and tendons, collectively referred to as the rotator cuff. So Shoulder arthritis and frozen shoulder are conditions that affect the Shoulder joint.

People sometimes get confused between frozen shoulder and shoulder arthritis, but it’s important to know that these are two different things.

Shoulder Arthritis

  • Cause: Shoulder arthritis is primarily caused by the wear and tear of the shoulder joint over time. It can also result from injuries or underlying medical conditions such as, 
  • Osteoarthritis 
  • Rheumatoid arthritis 
  • Rotator cuff tear arthropathy 
  • Symptoms: The main symptoms of shoulder arthritis are pain, stiffness, and reduced range of motion in the shoulder joint. This pain is often felt deep in the shoulder and may worsen with movement.
  • Movement: While movement is limited due to pain and stiffness, there is no complete loss of motion in shoulder arthritis. Some movement is still possible, although it’s often uncomfortable.

  Frozen Shoulder (Adhesive Capsulitis)

  • Cause: The exact cause of a frozen shoulder is not always clear, but it often occurs due to inflammation and the tightening of the shoulder joint’s capsule. It can be associated with underlying conditions like diabetes.
  • Symptoms: Frozen shoulder is characterized by severe pain, extreme stiffness, and significantly limited range of motion in the shoulder. It typically progresses through stages of increasing pain and decreasing mobility.Usually, the signs and symptoms start slowly and then worsen over time. However, the good thing is that these symptoms tend to improve, typically within 1 to 3 years.
  • Movement: The hallmark of frozen shoulder is a substantial loss of shoulder movement. In some cases, patients may have difficulty even with everyday tasks like combing their hair or reaching for objects.

When to Visit a Doctor in Case of Shoulder Pain?

Shoulder pain is only a Symptom, it can be caused due to various reasons like,

  • Frozen shoulder 
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis 
  • Rotator cuff tear arthropathy
  • Bursitis 
  • Tendonitis 
  • Cervical radiculopathy 
  • Heart attack 

Normally any inflammation caused by strain and sprain will subside while applying ice pack and rest. If it does not subside even after 1 or 2 days that may need medical care   

It’s important to prioritize seeking immediate medical attention if you experience shoulder pain alongside symptoms such as:

  1. Difficulty breathing
  2. Chest tightness
  3. Sweating

These symptoms could potentially indicate a serious condition like angina, which is characterized by chest discomfort due to reduced blood flow to the heart.If you have injured your shoulder due to a fall or another accident, it is advisable to seek immediate medical attention.

  • If your shoulder joint appears deformed or out of its normal position after the fall.
  • If you are unable to use your shoulder or move your arm away from your body.
  • If you are experiencing intense and persistent pain in the shoulder.
  • If there is sudden and significant swelling in the shoulder area.
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