Diabetes and Frozen Shoulder

About five years ago when I was reading The Diabetes Solution by Richard Bernstein, he mentioned having a frozen shoulder (before he developed his plan for normalizing blood sugar).
I thought, “how odd” for I’d never heard of it.

Well, here I sit, further on up the road, with limited range of motion in botharms. Whether it was directly related, or simply coincidental, I developed symptoms after recovering from a broken ankle. I had poorly fitted crutches and no instruction on how to use them. I also returned to work the week after surgery (one plate/two pins) and walked around on them way too much.
Later that summer I kept thinking that my shoulders should be better, but they got worse. Soon I was not able to hold my arm out straight and raise it parallel to the floor. Getting something off an eye-level shelf was impossible, and washing my hair was a big challenge.
My primary told me I had “adhesive capsulitis”, in which the muscles become inflamed, develop adhesions and stick to each other. That’s exactly what it felt like. Upon Googling it, found that it is much more common in people with diabetes, particulary those who’ve had it a long time (33 yr for me).
I started physical therapy but got frustrated when the results were slow. I ordered gadgets and gizmo’s off the web. I had many acupuncture treatments. It was agonizing to turn over in bed and sleep in certain positions.
At present, there has been some slow improvement. I chose exercises that I thought were really helping me and integrated them throughout my day. For example, when I get to work, I put both hands on top of the pop machine and stretch down. A couple of times a day when I walk by our office supply room, I grab an upper shelf and stretch from that. At the bus stop, I pretend like I"m getting something out of my back pocket (which really hurts). In the shower, I do a couple more difficult stretches because my muscles are nice and relaxed under the hot water.
I’ve regained a little more upward mobility in my right arm, and a little more backward mobility in my left, so I’ not debilitated by any means. And, the pain no longer disrupts my sleep.
If you’ve ever had any problems like this, I’d be interested in hearing what you did for it and what worked.

I had a bout with frozen shoulder last year . What a pain ! about the only thing to do was wait it out which took close to a year . I went to a ortho he was against the steriod injection since I had diabetes he offered pain meds and sympathy . He had me do therepy but i chose to do that on my own at home . Night s were the worse . It does help to put a pillow under your shoulder . I would put the pillow behind me then roll onto it . Good luck I your misery is over soon .

Hi Kathy: I am sorry to hear about your shoulder problems. Since 2004 I have been having pain in my right shoulder. When it first started I could only go to sleep by placing a pillow under my shoulder (like Tracy). An MRI revealed no problems, and physical therapy was no help. My doctor diagnosed it as arthritis. The pain finally subsided after I began a regimen of one ibuprofen twice a day.

I was diagnosed with Type 2 in 2206. This year I have been having problems with my right knee, making it very difficult to walk. Again, an MRI revealed nothing. My doctor prescribed me Diclofenac, 75 mg, twice a day for inflammation. It has helped both my knee and my shoulder. I stopped taking the ibuprofen. I am going to ask my doctor about the relationship between diabetes and joint inflammation, etc.

I don’ t have diabetes, my son does, but I had frozen shoulder a year a half ago after the birth of my second son. I think from carrying him around and he was a big boy! I found that my chiropractor helped a lot. He adjusted me regularly and recommended I stay on low dose ibuprophen to help with the inflamation that was causing the problem. Do you find at night you can’t even lay down…that your shoulder/s have to relax their way flat to the bed? Strangly, I also bought a Tony Little Micropedic pillow that helped a ton! Either way, it takes a long time to heal. Now I have started having problems with my right shoulder. That’s what I get from not going to the chiropractor in a few months to save money! I guess I might have to start up again…ouch!

I have had two frozen shoulders, 7 years apart. BOTH developed six months after I got MUCH better control.

I did a bunch of research and found out that pretty much TIME is what heals it. Acupuncture was helpful to me with the first one six months after it developed when it was frozen but not terribly painful. It unfroze after 3 treatments, very dramatically. The second frozen shoulder, which trapped a nerve and was excrutiatingly painful didn’t respond to acupuncture during the acute phase. I just left it alone and had some acupressure massage about 6 months after it developed and it helped a bit then. It gradually unfroze on its own.

Left alone frozen shoulders should resolve in about a year. Some doctors tell you to do very painful stretching exercises, but the evidence doesn’t support that this makes a difference. I didn’t and have about 95% of my function back 10 months later, my brother did do the painful exercises with about the same final result.

As I read your blog, I could be writing it myself! I have had diabetes for 34 years and developed what I thought was a rotator tear in my left shoulder after weight lifting and a triathlon- to find out that it was frozen shoulder. After 5 months of PT, I began to notice it also in my right shoulder.
I refused to believe that it was related to my diabetes, especially after being so active and having good control. The more I talk to people, it is amazing how many of my other “healthy” friends with diabetes also have the same problem.
I just underwent shoulder surgery. The right on 5/21 and the left on 6/25. I remain in therapy 3 days a week w/ pulley exercise, band exercises and as you say, any chance I get I stretch as much as possible.
Right now as I am only 2 weeks post op the left shoulder remains horribly sore, but the right is improving. I still must sleep flat on my back w/ pillows under, but am hoping that in time it will improve.
The pictures from the surgery reveal horrible spurs and arthritis which is now “clean”. I was also told that after 6 months of therapy prior to the surgery that surgery was my best option.
I went back to work 2 days later which was not a smart move, but as we already have been in pain for a year, it really wasn’t that much different.
Best of luck to you! I am not sure that I would recommend surgery for everyone and if you can get it to go away w/out being cut open more power to you!

Hi Kathy -

Another frozen shoulder-er here.

My right shoulder froze after I strained it two and half years ago. After nearly a year of therapy, lots of pain, and no relief - the doctor decided to surgically release it. The surgery itself was painful, but after a year and a half I have almost full mobility and the pain has subsided. I ache sometimes if I overuse or if the weather is cold or wet - but for the most part I’m back to normal.

The doctor mentioned when I was first diagnosed that the buildup of fiber in the shoulder that causes the freezing could be related to D - but that there’s nothing conclusive out there to say that for sure.

Good luck. I’m so sorry you’re in pain.


There was an interesting study published this past year that showed that people diagnosed with carpal tunnel were MUCH more likely to develop Diabetes within 10 years than other people, which points to it being a very early complication. That was my pattern, BTW.

The explanation I was given of why diabetes could lead to frozen shoulder is that the blood supply to tendons is pretty feeble in a normal healthy person, so it is the very first kind of tissue that will suffer if there is a diminution in blood supply which often happens in diabetes.

Also, I found a study online that found that tendons in people with diabetes tended to thicken, too.

So sorry to hear you have had to deal with such a horribly painful and limiting problem with your shoulder. It sounds like hell.

My research revealed the cortisone shots do not made any difference in the healing for frozen shoulder. Docs offer them because it lets them do something, and for some people they may briefly help pain, but they raise blood sugar and don’t improve healing, so they aren’ t a good idea. I got one for my first frozen shoulder and it pushed my bgs way up and my pulse raced for a week to the point where my doctor thought my thyroid had gone hyper. It hadn’t. It was a reaction to cortisone. Didn’t do a thing for the shoulder.

Plus there are some tendon problems you can have that cortisone makes worse!

Ladies and Travis - all of your comments were really helpful and interesting. I love this aspect of TD!
My discomfort at night is about 1or 2 on a scale of 1-10, so it’s really not an issue.
I will see how I do this fall when I try to put on a winter coat - that will be the litmus test.
I know that for me, there is a definite connective tissue problem - I also have CTS, trigger finger, tmj, etc, but, nothing that is anything more than an annoyance. I can’t even remember the last time I had an infection of any kind - I never get respiratory stuff - and I take public transportation to work so I’m exposed to everything under the sun.
Our bodies, whether with or without db, are both weird and wonderful.

About 17 years ago, I had a painful shoulder that sent me to the doctors. He said it wasn’t a frozen shoulder yet but it was close. I had some sort of medication and a cream to rub into it and it eventually went away (don’t recall what they were because it was so long ago!) I still don’t have quite the same range of motion as I used to, and every now and then I feel the familiar twinges that makes me wonder if it’s coming back (so far so good!). The main after effect for me is the way I hold my toothbrush - I have to hold my elbow up quite high for it too be comfortable (yes, it does look silly).

I actually put it down to doing archery when I was a teenager. It was in the shoulder that I used to draw the bow with so it did get a lot of use (though it happened many years after I stopped doing the archery). I didn’t have diabetes then though - I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes almost 3 years ago. Kind of interesting to hear there seems to be a connection.


Before I got diagnosed with diabetes I severely ruptured a disc in my back which has severely limited my mobility ever since so I was already unable to do a lot of things normal people can do. My feet go numb very easily from nerve compression and I can get horrible leg pain for weeks from just twisting the wrong way or lifting something that weighs 10 lbs, so the last thing I needed on top of that is torn tendons in my feet or horribly painful shoulders.

When people talk about the impact of diabetes on their lives, I always think that I wouldn’t even MIND having diabetes if I could have my back restored to the way it should be, I could ride a bike or ski, or dance, or just pick up little kids and do all the stuff I can’t do any more!

Because there is such a limit on my mobility is one reason I spend so much time on this !@#$ computer, messaging!

I just remembered this discussion and thought I would revive it since I am having terrible problems with my shoulder. I noticed Jeeny said her frozen shoulder started after getting better BG control and that’s my situation also: I have near perfect BG right now, about a year after my diagnosis. I am guessing I had diabetes for at least 5 years with an A1 C of 7.2 before that. I have fallen a few times this winter- we are having the worst snow and ice in years but I refuse to allow the weather to keep me in the house. About 2 months ago I started having pain in my right shoulder. I have a little pain in the left also. The chiropractor was able to treat my neck and back pain from the falls, but thought the shoulder pain was soft tissue related, possibly a tear in my pectoral muscle or rotator cuff. He suggested physical therapy and the PT thought I had an unstable shoulder. She taped it and gave me some strenghtening exercises. Neither is helping much. I have limited ROM, can’t reach above or behind my back without excruciating pain and am having trouble sleeping. I wake up really stiff in the morning and can barely give myself my injection because I can’t bend my neck. I am feeling pretty discouraged, especially reading people’s experiences here and seeing that it can take up to a year to resolve. Any suggestions?

Hi Kathy! In the 1980’s I jammed a shoulder while crawling through a very small opening in my attic. The result was a frozen shoulder. My doctor sent me to the physical therapy dept. at a local hosputal. The therapist there had me start doing exercises to strengthen my wrist and lower arm muscles. She explained that was becuse a future part of the treatment woluld involve my using weights in each hand and muscle strength in the wrists was important. I startred with 2 lb. weights,then 3 lb, then 5lb and finally 10 pound weights with about a week at each weight. In the meantime I was given a series of exercises to display in front of her then every day at home. Only 5 times for each exercise each at first, then 10 times the next week, an so on. A new exercise was added ever so often. Then I was supposed to do some of the exercises while holding the weights since my wrist muscles were ready. By the time I had about 10 exercises and was using 10 pound weights I had pretty much eliminated my frozen shoulder problem. She was a great teacher. Years later I jammed my other shoulder doing carpentry work. I remembered the old routine and I had weights I had bought still at home so I cured that shoulder by myself. Good luck with yours!


Hi -
I was just diagnosed with frozen shoulder yesterday, after seeing the orthopedist a 2nd time. The first time he said it was a tendon impingement, but now since it’s gotten worse after PT he thinks it’s adhesive capsulitis. I’m 41, Type 1 for 24 years, and as you say it sounds like it’s much more common in people with diabetes. It’s interesting that some say it’s come on after getting in better control. I’ve been on a pump for 5 years, so I’m in very good control, but I haven’t been totally on top of it the last few months, so I’m not sure if my BG’s have affected this or not. The PT was having me do very light range of motion exercises, as well as lightly swinging a weight pendulum-style while hunched over. The pain has only gotten worse. The ortho has given me new PT orders including aggressive stretching and pulley exercises. Do you think this will help, or do I just have to suck it up and wait to heal from it? I’m kind of confused from all I’m reading as to whether PT actually helps or not. My copays are pricey, so if it’s not helpful I’d rather not waste my money and time, not to mention these aggressive stretches are excrutiatingly painful!

I find that the PT has helped but it took a long time. The stretching is painful but it works. You probably don’t need to go to the therapist though. Once you have the exercises you can do them at home by yourself. I wouldn’t do really aggressive stuff though. My shoulder is mostly better after nearly a year but I’m pretty sure it was caused by inflammatory arthritis and am now trying to deal with pain and stiffness in almost all my joints.

I developed it in one shoulder in December '05, and shortly thereafter, it showed up in the other shoulder. I saw my GP who thought it was rheumatoid arthritis, so then I saw two different rheumatologists. Arthritis was ruled out, and the last one I saw decided I had fibromyalgia for which he prescribed Darvocet. By then, I had read about frozen shoulder, and was thinking that’s what I had. I sure as heck didn’t want to be taking narcotics, and I knew I didn’t have fibromyalgia. After spending '06 chasing my tail, in early '07 I finally went to see an orthopedic surgeon. He gave me the correct diagnosis, and as it turned out, I’ve also had it in my hips since I was 19. When I was 19 and started having limited range of motion and pain in my hips, I saw my GP and got x-rays, but never got a diagnosis, so I just lived with it. I did some PT during the summer or '07, but I could never sleep comfortably, I couldn’t get dressed or undressed without my husband’s help or contorting myself, and I felt like an elderly lady having sex because every position hurt. The doctor and I decided to do manipulation under anesthesia last October. While I was out, he ended up doing arthroscopic surgery on one shoulder because it was so restricted. He also stretched my legs to loosen up my hips, but there was only so much he could do since those had been ‘frozen’ for 15 years already. I did a lot of PT following the surgery - starting the day after. It’s a lot better now, but still not what it was. It would be even more improved if I did exercises, but I’m lazy. I do try and stretch, but I’m not consistent with it.

Try this if you do not want to go to a physical therapist. Stand facing a wall about a foot from the wall. Raise the hand of the affected arm and place it on the wall about shoulder high. Now let your fingers “walk” up the wall until it is uncomfortable. Repeat a few times. Make a mark where your fingers stopped. The next time you do this increase your repetitions. Each time try to go at least one inch higher on the wall. Continue making marks. Try not to skip days. Don’t force yourself to go high enough to cause a lot of pain. Some pain is necessary though to make any progress. Eventually you will reach higher and higher and your shoulder is improving. A friend cured his frozen shoulder this way but his shoulder was not so bad when he started. If your shoulder is very bad this might not work. Good luck!

Until I suffered from frozen shoulder syndrome a year ago I used to swear AT chiropractors. Now I swear BY them - at least for frozen shoulder.

It took about 6 months of manipulation of the shoulder and of exercises to get back to normal. I still do the exercises for maintenance purposes.

Other advice I received from the chiro was to sleep on my back (that ain’t happening - not on a constant basis anyway) and avoid sleeping with your arms over your head.

I just got diagnosed with frozen shoulder last Thursday. I’ve been T1 for 13 years and went back on the pump the first of March. I noticed the pain starting in April. I saw where Jenny said her problem started when her control got better. I wonder if that could be contributing to my shoulder as well. I have always been active, working out daily and now it’s hard to do normal everyday things let alone physical workouts. And golf…forget about it! My ortho told me it could take up to 18 months to heal. It helps to hear other people’s experience and advice.