Arthroscopic Release for Chronic, Refractory Adhesive Capsulitis of the Shoulder*

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Idiopathic adhesive capsulitis usually responds to gentle physical therapy or, if that fails, to closed manipulation with the patient under anesthesia. In some patients, however, loss of motion may be refractory to either of these treatments and an operative release may be indicated. We are reporting on the technique and results of arthroscopic capsular release as a new alternative for the management of such patients. During a three-year period, we managed twenty-three patients who had idiopathic adhesive capsulitis that had failed to respond to physical therapy or closed manipulation. These patients had an arthroscopic anterior capsular release and received forty-eight hours of intensive physical therapy as inpatients. During the physical therapy, the patients received an interscalene regional analgesic with use of repeated nerve blocks or with a continuous infusion through an interscalene catheter. This was followed by a supervised outpatient physical-therapy program. Six patients also had an arthroscopic acromioplasty for the treatment of impingement. There were no complications related to any of the procedures.At a mean of thirty-nine months (range, twenty-four to sixty-four months) after the arthroscopic procedure, the improvement in the score of Constant and Murley averaged 48 points (range, 13 to 77 points). The mean improvement in motion was 49 degrees (range, 0 to 105 degrees) for flexion; 42 degrees (range, 10 to 80 degrees) and 53 degrees (range, 0 to 100 degrees) for external rotation in adduction and abduction, respectively; and eight spinous-process levels (range, three to fourteen levels) and 33 degrees (range, 30 to 60 degrees) for internal rotation in adduction and abduction, respectively. These gains in motion were all significant (p < 0.01) compared with the preoperative values and were within a mean of 7 degrees of the values for the contralateral, normal shoulder.We concluded that, in patients who have loss of motion that is refractory to closed manipulation, arthroscopic capsular release improves motion reliably with little operative morbidity.

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