08 Dec Studies Suggest Possible Genetic Link to Frozen Shoulder
Shoulder pain isn’t fun. Even the slightest amount of pain can make using an affected shoulder quite uncomfortable. Unfortunately, a condition known as frozen shoulder is known to limit function considerably. We’re not exactly sure why some people seem more susceptible to it, but a new study suggests there may be a genetic link.
Researchers in the UK looked at thousands of health records in hopes of understanding any common factors frozen shoulder patients exhibited. After adjusting for a number of factors, the data revealed a possible genetic link in three locations.
More About Frozen Shoulder
Frozen shoulder is known formally as adhesive capsulitis. It is a condition in which one of the patient’s shoulders gradually presents with more pain and less mobility. There may come a point at which the joint becomes so stiff that the shoulder remains immobile nearly all of the time.
Frozen shoulder generally occurs in three stages:
- Freezing Stage – Pain and stiffness are uncomfortable enough to hinder movement. Patients only move their arms when it is absolutely necessary.
- Frozen Stage – A combination of stiffness, pain, and lack of use make the arm/shoulder nearly impossible to use. Even the slightest movement becomes very difficult.
- Thawing Stage – Pain and stiffness gradually subside, allowing for increased movement and function.
Each stage can last as little as two months or as long as 24. A single episode of frozen shoulder can go on for years at a time. It is estimated that approximately 10% of the U.S. adult population will experience frozen shoulder at least once.
The Causes of Frozen Shoulder
Although the British researchers may have identified a genetic link to frozen shoulder, that link would only explain why some people are more susceptible to the condition than others. It doesn’t explain what causes frozen shoulder.
From a biological standpoint, frozen shoulder is directly caused by a thickening and tightening of the connective tissue in the capsule that encloses the shoulder joint. As the tissue thickens and tightens, there is less room for the shoulder joint to move.
It is not clear what triggers the thickening and tightening. But there are plenty of possibilities:
- Acute shoulder injury
- Scarring following shoulder surgery
- Prolonged pressure on the shoulder (e.g., like when sleeping)
- Underlying disease (e.g., diabetes, thyroid disease).
Past studies indicate that certain types of behaviors can increase the risk of developing frozen shoulder. Smoking is one of them. Still, not everyone who smokes, injures the shoulder, has diabetes, etc. develops the condition. So that takes us back to the genetic factor.
How Genetics Might Contribute
Without getting into the actual details of the British study, it boils down to the fact that genes identified in three particular locations may make the connective tissue in the shoulder capsule more susceptible to the scarring directly responsible for frozen shoulder.
If the researchers’ thinking is correct, a genetic predisposition to the condition would mean that an affected person has a greater risk overall. Injuries, underlying conditions, and at-risk behaviors only make it more likely that a person will develop frozen shoulder.
It Can Be Treated
The good news is that frozen shoulder can be treated. Like most other forms of shoulder pain, it is a matter of making the correct diagnosis. Frozen shoulder is often addressed with medications, physical therapy, and a variety of alternative procedures, including steroid injections.
Frozen shoulder does not have to dominate your life. If you have been diagnosed with the condition but have found no relief, consider paying us a visit. Our doctors are pain specialists with access to the most effective treatment options.