The condition popularly known as frozen shoulder, also referred to as adhesive capsulitis, affects about 5 to 20 percent of the population. It is more common among women, especially those between the ages of 40 and 60, so it is an issue for some women beginning in perimenopause and beyond to postmenopause.
What is a frozen shoulder?
Frozen shoulder is a condition in which an individual experiences pain and loss in the range of motion in their shoulder. These symptoms get progressively worsen over time. The condition is usually caused by inflammation of the tissue (capsule) that holds the joint together. Scarring also develops along with the inflamed capsule. Over time the scarring gets worse, restricting movement in the shoulder and causing pain.
Individuals with a history of thyroid problems, heart disease, diabetes, and Parkinson's disease are at special risk of developing frozen shoulder. Although the condition typically resolves itself over time, full recovery can take several years.
The exact cause of frozen shoulder is not known, although it can occur after an arm injury or with the presence of bursitis or rotator cuff tendinitis. It is commonly seen in women between the ages of 40 and 60, which suggests there is a hormonal component to this condition.
Since estrogen is involved in reducing inflammation, promoting the integrity of connective tissue (like that in the shoulder) and muscle growth, and stimulating bone growth, it makes sense to explore the role of hormones in women with frozen shoulder.
Study of frozen shoulder in postmenopausal women
A group of researchers at Duke Health evaluated the medical records of nearly 2,000 postmenopausal women between the ages of 45 and 60 who had shoulder pain, stiffness, and adhesive capsulitis. Some of the women were on hormone replacement therapy, and some were not.
Overall, 3.95 percent of women who had taken hormone replacement therapy were diagnosed with frozen shoulder compared to 7.65 percent of women who had not taken the therapy. Even though the difference between the two groups was not statistically significant, “there may be a connection between the loss of estrogen in menopause and this painful shoulder condition,” according to Anne Ford, MD, associate professor in the Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology at Duke University School of Medicine, and one of the study’s authors.
This study is believed to be the first to analyze the role of hormone therapy in the occurrence of frozen shoulder in menopausal women. Although more research is needed, the authors believe their findings are “sufficient to support the hypothesis that hormone therapy may be protective against the disorder.”