The Link Between Diabetes and Frozen Shoulder

It’s no secret to most of us living with diabetes that we face a higher risk of experiencing a variety of health complications than those without the disease. Many of these are extremely serious issues, including cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, diabetic neuropathy (nerve damage), and stroke. 

There’s also a complication that’s not as common as the above and, thankfully, not nearly as serious, but nonetheless can be quite painful. It’s most often referred to as “Frozen Shoulder” though the medical term for the condition is “Adhesive Capsulitis”.

Medical science isn’t entirely clear on the relationship between diabetes and frozen shoulder. What is known, however, is that the condition is far more prevalent among those living with diabetes than the general population. In fact, according to the American Diabetes Association between 10% and 20% of individuals with diabetes will experience frozen shoulder in their lifetime. Compare this to the range of 2% and 5% for those without the disease and it’s clear there is some link between diabetes and frozen shoulder. 

What Is Frozen Shoulder?

Frozen shoulder is a condition that develops gradually over time and impacts the heavy-duty connective tissue surrounding the shoulder joint. In cases of frozen shoulder, this tissue thickens and tightens. Eventually, stiff bands known as adhesions develop, which makes movement painful and impedes the normal range of shoulder motion.

Frozen shoulder usually starts off with some occasional pain that happens when moving the arm and shoulder. As the condition progresses, this pain becomes more severe and transitions into serious mobility issues. As the name states, the shoulder becomes “frozen” and even everyday tasks, such as reaching for an item on a high shelf, can become impossible.

Here's the crazy part. It’s not only that it hurts to move the shoulder. It’s that the shoulder can’t be moved beyond a certain point at all. The suffer experiences a loss of what’s called the “passive range of motion”. This means even when someone else, such as a physician, tries to move the shoulder it won’t budge. It is physically locked up – thus the name frozen shoulder.

Frozen shoulder appears in three distinct stages that are quite aptly named:

Freezing Stage

This is the onset of frozen shoulder, which usually begins with some minimal shoulder pain when at rest but sharp twinges of pain when performing more extreme motions (reaching, twisting). This stage can last anywhere from two to nine months.

Frozen Stage

In this stage, the aching experienced at rest often subsides. However, here’s where the substantial loss of motion occurs with more severe pain at the end ranges of shoulder movement. The shoulder is frozen, and it can last anywhere from four months to a full year.

Thawing Stage

This is when things start getting better. The range of motion slowly returns, and pain gradually subsides. Unfortunately, this stage can take up to two years!

How is Frozen Shoulder Diagnosed?

Frozen shoulder is usually diagnosed during a doctor’s examination, after a person begins experiencing symptoms. Normally, both the active range of motion (the movement you can do yourself) and the passive range of motion (how far the doctor can move your shoulder) are examined.

Unfortunately, frozen shoulder is sometimes misdiagnosed as a rotator cuff injury. This happens because MRIs can reveal small tears in the rotator cuff that are age-related and entirely normal but are misdiagnosed as the cause of pain.

If you have diabetes and are experiencing either an extremely stiff shoulder or painful movement, ask your doctor if it might be frozen shoulder.

Treating Frozen Shoulder

The good news about frozen shoulder is that it usually goes away on its own. However, it can take years and that’s a long time to deal with pain and what might be a severe lack of mobility. The most effective treatment is often simple physical therapy combined with an anti-inflammatory drug. In some cases, steroid injections are also considered. Surgery is rarely the best course of action and reserved solely for those with the most severe frozen shoulder cases.

Can I Prevent Frozen Shoulder?

Each year about 200,000 people in the United States get frozen shoulder. It’s more common among women than men, most of those who suffer from it are between 40 and 60 years old, and those with diabetes are more likely to develop it. So, can you prevent frozen shoulder?

There’s no sure-fire way to prevent the condition. However, because it is more prevalent among those with diabetes, there is good reason to believe this increased risk has to do with blood sugar.

If this is true, the best way you can prevent frozen shoulder is to keep your diabetes and blood sugar in check.

  1. Test regularly according to your doctor’s recommendations using a glucose meter and test strips. If you use a continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) device, make sure it is operating properly.
  1. Follow your doctor-prescribed medication plan and schedule, including insulin treatments administered by syringe or insulin pen.
  1. Eat right and get plenty of exercise to aid in blood sugar control. You might also want to add stretching sessions to your activity routine as this can help maintain your shoulder’s range of motion.


Frozen shoulder is not a health condition you’re at a high risk of developing even if you are living with diabetes. It’s also a problem that in most cases eventually heals itself. That being said, this is no walk in the park. Frozen shoulder can lead to years of pain and greatly inhibit the mobility in your shoulder, which in turn can prevent you from enjoying many of the activities that are also helpful in managing your diabetes.

The earlier you identify frozen shoulder, the quicker your recovery will likely be, and the sooner you’ll be able to discuss treatment options with your doctor. If you’re among the 34 million American living with diabetes and find yourself experiencing shoulder pain or mobility issues, see your doctor right away to find out if you’re suffering from frozen shoulder.


We hope you found this post interesting and informative. At Diabetic Warehouse, we committed to keeping you up to date with the latest topics and unique insights on living with diabetes. We’re also proud to help you stick to your doctor-prescribed diabetes treatment plan with a huge selection of diabetic supplies and equipment at prices up to 65% less than you’ll find at pharmacies and other suppliers.

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1 THOUGHTS ON “Frozen Shoulder and Diabetes”

by Lori

I have been living with Adhesive Capsulitis for approx 15 years now. Luckily it isn’t getting worse but it is not getting any better either. I wish this would have gone anyway in 2 years.