Adhesive capsulitis: review of imaging findings, pathophysiology, clinical presentation, and treatment options, 2019

Topics: Frozen shoulder, Adhesive capsulitis, Coracohumeral ligament, Magnetic resonance imaging, Subcoracoid fat triangle, Glenohumeral joint capsule

Authors: Brandon K K Fields, Matthew R Skalski, Dakshesh B Patel, Eric A White, Anderanik Tomasian, Jordan S Gross, George R Matcuk


Adhesive capsulitis, commonly referred to as “frozen shoulder,” is a debilitating condition characterized by progressive pain and limited range of motion about the glenohumeral joint. It is a condition that typically affects middle-aged women, with some evidence for an association with endocrinological, rheumatological, and autoimmune disease states. Management tends to be conservative, as most cases resolve spontaneously, although a subset of patients progress to permanent disability. Conventional arthrographic findings include decreased capsular distension and volume of the axillary recess when compared with the normal glenohumeral joint, in spite of the fact that fluoroscopic visualization alone is rarely carried out today in favor of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). MRI and MR arthrography (MRA) have, in recent years, allowed for the visualization of several characteristic signs seen with this condition, including thickening of the coracohumeral ligament, axillary pouch and rotator interval joint capsule, in addition to the obliteration of the subcoracoid fat triangle. Additional findings include T2 signal hyperintensity and post-contrast enhancement of the joint capsule. Similar changes are observable on ultrasound. However, the use of ultrasound is most clearly established for image-guided injection therapy. More aggressive therapies, including arthroscopic release and open capsulotomy, may be indicated for refractory disease, with arthroscopic procedures favored because of their less invasive nature and relatively high success rate.

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