Its name comes from the fact that the joint capsule (membrane surrounding the joint) retracts and thus prevents the normal functioning of the shoulder. Retractable capsulitis is also called ‘frozen shoulder’.

Origin, causes

Sometimes without a cause, it is said to be idiopathic. There is often a contributing factor such as shoulder trauma or any painful shoulder condition, including surgery follow-ups.

Some diseases favor capsulitis:

  • Diabetes (capsulitis can then be bilateral),
  • Myocardial infarction.
  • Hemiplegia.
  • Finally, some drugs would promote this disease: barbiturates).

An anxious terrain is classically retained but no scientific study has been able to demonstrate it.


A retractable capsulitis begins with a painful phase that is longer or shorter (from a few weeks to several months). The pain is permanent, including nocturnal, waking the patient. It is slightly calmed by simple analgesics (paracetamol) or anti-inflammatories.
After several weeks or months, a progressive stiffness occurs. It becomes more and more difficult to put a jacket, a bra or go looking for an object in height.


No specific additional examination is necessary in case of typical retractile capsulitis.


The spontaneous course of retractile capsulitis is healing. In the vast majority of cases, this healing occurs within 18 months but may occur sooner or later. So it’s a long process.

The pain must be controlled by analgesics adapted according to its intensity.

In the phase of stiffness, physiotherapy will:

  • Contribute to fight against pain (heat, electrotherapy, …)
  • Maintain function, avoid muscle atrophy of the shoulder through active work of all shoulder muscles

In case of persistence of functional impotence and pains the realization of specific techniques in outpatient can accelerate the healing process without additional pain. These techniques are performed in pain treatment centers by anesthetist doctors trained in these techniques.

You can contact Dr. BANCO Philippe, a pain doctor at the Union clinic who practices these routinely