Help! My Shoulder is Stiff

Help! My Shoulder is Stiff

You use your shoulders for many of the activities you perform every day. If one or both of your shoulders becomes painful and stiff, life can get more complicated.

Stiffness in the shoulder can be caused by a number of conditions, such as a frozen shoulder, a rotator cuff tear, or arthritis. Thankfully, there are a number of treatments that can help improve mobility and decrease pain.

If you're dealing with pain and stiffness in your shoulders, Robert Douglas Bostick III, MD, and his team at Metairie Orthopedics & Sports Medicine in Metairie, Louisiana, can get to the bottom of it. They offer specialized testing and customized treatments. In this blog, they explain some of the causes of shoulder stiffness and discuss some of the treatment options.

What is a frozen shoulder?

Once common cause of shoulder stiffness and decreased mobility is a condition known as a frozen shoulder. This condition often happens due to keeping the arm immobilized for an extended period. For example, you may get a frozen shoulder after getting surgery or fracturing your arm, either of which may require immobilization.

A frozen shoulder typically develops slowly over time. Furthermore, it can get worse if it’s not treated. There are generally three stages of this condition:

1. The freezing stage

The freezing stage is the first sign of a frozen shoulder, and it begins when you have pain with movement. The constant pain in this stage then leads to decreased range of motion and mobility in your shoulder joint. This stage lasts anywhere from 2-9 months.

2. The frozen stage

The frozen stage typically lasts 4-12 months and is when your shoulder is the stiffest. Your pain might decrease during this stage, but moving your shoulder is often much harder, causing issues with your daily life.

3. The thawing stage

The thawing stage is the last stage of a frozen shoulder, where your shoulder stiffness begins to subside. Your pain is typically much less than before, and your range of motion improves slowly, especially with treatment.

What are other causes of shoulder stiffness?

Other conditions that can cause shoulder stiffness include the following:

Rotator cuff tears

Rotator cuff tears are either chronic or acute and can lead to pain and weakness in the affected shoulder. Untreated tears can lead to shoulder stiffness from the inflammation in the joint. Reaching up over your head or raising your arm is usually difficult and painful due to this condition.

SLAP tears

A SLAP (superior labrum anterior to posterior) tear is an injury to the ring of cartilage that surrounds your shoulder joint. You may notice a decreased range of motion, especially when you do any activity where you need to reach over your head.


Osteoarthritis — which is the most common type of arthritis — is a condition in which cartilage in a joint wears down. This leads to chronic inflammation, stiffness, and pain, which can severely limit your mobility.


Bursitis is a condition in which the bursae — which are fluid-filled sacs that help cushion a joint — get inflamed. This condition can cause pain and shoulder stiffness, especially with specific movements.

Treating shoulder stiffness

Dr. Bostick is an expert in treating shoulder conditions and injuries. When you see him, he’ll ask about your symptoms, thoroughly evaluate your shoulder, and develop a treatment plan. Depending on the cause of your condition, he may recommend nonsurgical or surgical solutions. Nonsurgical options could include any of the following:

If conservative measures aren't successful in treating your shoulder stiffness, Dr. Bostick may recommend a shoulder arthroscopy.

During a shoulder arthroscopy, Dr. Bostick makes a few tiny incisions in your joint and uses a tool known as an arthroscope to see the inside of your shoulder. He can then treat your shoulder joint to help reduce your pain and improve your range of motion.

If you have shoulder stiffness, Dr. Bostick can help you get well. To learn more, call 504-541-5800 or book an appointment online with Metairie Orthopedics & Sports Medicine today.

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