Diabetes and Frozen Shoulder: What You Need to Know

One very unfortunate reality of diabetes is the fact that the longer you have the condition, the more likely you are to suffer from a complication. One of these complications is a condition commonly referred to as frozen shoulder. It affects nearly 3% of the population– primarily individuals between the ages of 40 and 60, and more often women than men. And while 3% of the population might not sound like much, it’s important to note that people with diabetes are nearly twice as likely to suffer from frozen shoulder. In fact, some reports show that up to 29% of diabetics report symptoms of frozen shoulder.

The symptoms of frozen shoulder range in severity from discomfort and stiffness, to pain and immobility in the region. And while it’s one of the less common complications of diabetes, if you suffer from it, it’s more than just a mild inconvenience. Additionally, with the already demanding task of managing diabetes, being confronted with an additional health issue can feel overwhelming, to say the least.

But what is it? What causes it? What does it have to do with diabetes? And what can you do to prevent or treat it?

Well, we’re here to answer those questions! Because knowing what you’re dealing with is one of the best ways to confront the issue. Keep reading to learn more about frozen shoulder!

Photo Credit: Adobe Stock/Lydie
Photo Credit: Adobe Stock/Lydie

What is frozen shoulder, and what does it have to do with diabetes?

Frozen shoulder, formally known as “adhesive capsulitis,” occurs when the ligaments around the shoulder joint swell and stiffen. Diabetes contributes to this due to the effect it has on collagen. Through a process known as glycosylation, collagen can become sticky if sugar molecules attach to it. This leads to the stiffening of the shoulder joint. Studies have shown that glycosylation can be triggered by the presence of high blood sugars.


Symptoms of frozen shoulder are gradual, and worsen over time.

  • Stage 1: Initialization (0-3 months)- this phase is typically associated with pain (particularly at night) and reduced range of motion (think of combing your hair or reaching for an object on a high shelf).
  • Stage 2: Freezing (3-9 months)- Pain is intense and chronic. Range of motion is further reduced, and possibly lost.
  • Stage 3: Frozen (9-14 months)- Pain may be less than in stage 2, but range of motion might worsen.
  • Stage 4: Thawing (15-24 months)- Pain continues to lessen and range of motion begins to improve progressively.

Causes and Risk Factors

  • Having diabetes- people with diabetes are nearly twice as likely to suffer from frozen shoulder
  • Age- most often happens to people over 40
  • Gender- 70% of frozen shoulder cases occur in women
  • Recent injury- suddenly reducing mobility of shoulder can cause capsule to stiffen
  • Other health conditions- stroke, hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, Parkinson’s disease, cardiovascular disease
  • Tendonitis or issues with your rotator cuff
Photo Credit: Adobe Stock/Tyler Olson
Photo Credit: Adobe Stock/Tyler Olson

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Your doctor will need to rule out factors such as injury or arthritis. However, injury can lead to frozen shoulder. Your doctor may employ one of the following to diagnose frozen shoulder:

  • Physical exam
  • X-ray
  • MRI


The exact cause of frozen shoulder can’t be determined in every case. However, one of the best things you can do to ensure you avoid this painful complication is to keep tight control of your blood glucose levels. Further, because of its connection to stroke and injury, it’s important that you consult your doctor if you suffer from either. They will likely have physical therapy options that will include range of motion exercises you can do to avoid frozen shoulder.

Photo Credit: Adobe Stock/lightwavemedia
Photo Credit: Adobe Stock/lightwavemedia


The goal, of course, is to improve or restore mobility and reduce pain. And while that process might be slow, and at times frustrating, the good news is, with time, more than 90% of individuals with frozen shoulder experience relief. Typically, your doctor will work with you to establish a treatment plan that may include one or several of the following:

  • Pain relievers- over the counter products like Acetaminophen, or prescription painkillers (depending on the severity of the case)
  • Compression packs- your physician might recommend alternating between hot and cold compression packs to reduce swelling and pain
  • Physical therapy- one of the best things you can do for stiff joints is to keep them moving. Physical therapy can help you practice exercises that will improve your range of motion
  • Corticosteroid injections- injected into the shoulder, this steroid can reduce pain and swelling. However, this isn’t typically ideal for people with diabetes as it can cause a surge in blood glucose levels
  • Manipulation under anesthesia– shoulder joint is gently manipulated to stretch tissue
  • Shoulder arthroscopy- a minimally invasive procedure that removes scar tissue from the joint
  • “NEXT” for 3 Exercises to Help Ease Frozen Shoulder Symptoms!!


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