Frequently Asked Questions

One morning two months ago, I woke up with a stiff ankle. Before I knew it, the dang thing was locked up tight. The doctor is calling it a mysterious case of "frozen ankle." Have you ever heard of such a thing?

Most people have heard of the condition known as a frozen shoulder. The medical term for a "frozen" joint is adhesive capsulitis. The diagnosis of adhesive capsulitis can apply to any joint that is painful and stiff with significant loss of motion. In this article, the concept of a frozen ankle or adhesive capsulitis of the ankle is reviewed. One of the key features of adhesive capsulitis is the overall loss of both active and passive motion. Active motion refers to your ability to move the ankle up, down, and all around. Passive motion occurs when someone else (your physician, physical therapist, athletic trainer) moves the foot and ankle through the available range-of-motion without your help. What causes a frozen ankle? Like adhesive capsulitis of the shoulder, the exact cause may be unknown. This is called primary or idiopathic adhesive capsulitis. Even though it is said that the cause is unknown, with primary adhesive capsulitis, there are some factors that increase your risk for joint problems like this. Having diabetes heads the list of potential risk factors. In fact, up to 40 per cent of adults with Type 1 diabetes and 10 to 36 per cent of folks with Type 2 diabetes develop adhesive capsulitis of the shoulder. Being a woman or an older adult (40 to 60 years old) also increases the risk of adhesive capsulitis. Injury or trauma to the shoulder may be the cause of secondary adhesive capsulitis. As the term secondary suggests, the shoulder condition occurs as a direct result of another problem like trauma. The incidence of adhesive capsulitis of the ankle is much less than in the shoulder. And most of the time, adhesive capsulitis of the ankle is secondary to repeated ankle sprains or an ankle fracture. Risk factors for primary (idiopathic) ankle adhesive capsulitis do include diabetes as well as infection, heart disease, or autoimmune disorders. All in all, a frozen ankle is a lot like a frozen shoulder. The symptoms are very similar. The underlying pathologic processes within the tissues appear to match up as well. Treatment is based on whether you are in the early, mid, or late stage of the condition. It sounds like you are in the early phase when there is considerable inflammation that might respond to antiinflammatory medications. Physical therapy is often a good idea in order to keep the joint moving and prevent stiffening and thickening of the joint capsule.

Bilal Shamsi, BS, et al. Clinical Review of Adhesive Capsulitis of the Ankle: An Introductory Article and Clinical Review. In The Foot and Ankle Online Journal. October 2011. E article. Vol. 4. No. 10.

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