Adhesive capsulitis of the shoulder: review of pathophysiology and current clinical treatments

Shoulder Elbow. 2017 Apr;9(2):75-84. doi: 10.1177/1758573216676786. Epub 2016 Nov 7.


Adhesive shoulder capsulitis, or arthrofibrosis, describes a pathological process in which the body forms excessive scar tissue or adhesions across the glenohumeral joint, leading to pain, stiffness and dysfunction. It is a debilitating condition that can occur spontaneously (primary or idiopathic adhesive capsulitis) or following shoulder surgery or trauma (secondary adhesive capsulitis). Here, we review the pathophysiology of adhesive shoulder capsulitis, highlighting its clinical presentation, natural history, risk factors, pathoanatomy and pathogenesis. Both current non-operative and operative treatments for adhesive capsulitis are described, and evidence-based studies are presented in support for or against each corresponding treatment. Finally, the review also provides an update on the gene expression profile of adhesive capsulitis and how this new understanding can help facilitate development of novel pharmacological therapies.

Keywords: adhesive capsulitis; arthrofibrosis; frozen shoulder; shoulder capsulitis; shoulder pain; shoulder stiffness.

Publication types

  • Review