Shoulder problems are not what come to mind when most people think of diabetes.
But studies have found a link between both types of diabetes and this mysterious shoulder condition, which occurs in three stages: weeks of inexplicable shoulder pain, followed by months of “frozen” stiffness and restricted motion, and then finally a “thawing” stage in which motion gradually returns. The condition, also known as adhesive capsulitis, afflicts 2 percent to 5 percent of the general population, but at least 20 percent of all people with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, with the risk increasing with age.
No one knows precisely what causes it. But scientists think it may have something to do with excess glucose building up in the shoulder and essentially gluing collagen fibers together, restricting movement. Diabetics seem to develop more aggressive cases.
But doctors say there are measures to counter it. Controlling blood sugar is one important step. Using heating pads and taking anti-inflammatories like aspirin and ibuprofen can ease the initial pain. And home stretching exercises and physical therapy can help restore movement and sometimes prevent the return of symptoms. Cortisone injections are another option, but some experts suspect they may increase glucose levels.
When nothing else works, doctors recommend an outpatient arthroscopic shoulder procedure, which removes scar tissue and frees ligaments. Studies show it has a high success rate.
THE BOTTOM LINE Diabetes significantly raises the risk of frozen shoulder.