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Shoulder & Elbow

Distension arthrogram in the treatment of adhesive capsulitis has a low rate of repeat intervention

a ten-year review

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The primary aim of this study was to evaluate the efficacy of distension arthrography in the treatment of adhesive capsulitis of the shoulder. The secondary aim was to assess which patient and procedural factors predicted the recurrence of symptoms after the procedure.


All patients referred to our shoulder clinic over a ten-year period, between 2008 and 2018, with a clinical diagnosis of capsulitis and symptoms persisting for more than six months, were offered treatment with a distension arthrogram. All procedures were performed by one of five musculoskeletal radiologists, with a combination of steroid, local anaesthetic, and a distention volume of 10 ml, 30 ml, or 50 ml. Patient demographics, procedural details, recurrence of symptoms, and the need for further intervention were evaluated.


A total of 2,432 distension arthrograms were performed during the study period. The mean time between arthrography and analysis was 5.4 years (SD 4.4; 1 to 11). Recurrent symptoms occurred in 184 cases (7.6%), all of whom had a repeat distension arthrogram at a median of nine months (interquartile range (IQR) 6.0 to 15.3). The requirement for further intervention for persistent symptoms following arthrography was significantly associated with diabetes (p < 0.001) and bilateral capsulitis (p < 0.001). The volume of distension, either with air or saline, showed a dose-dependent advantage. Distension of 50 ml versus 30 ml showed a significantly decreased odds ratio for recurrence of 2.2 (95% confidence interval (CI) 1.6 to 3.0; p < 0.001). Capsule rupture (p = 0.615) or steroid dose (p = 0.275) did not significantly affect the rate of recurrence. There were no infections or neurovascular injuries. Following the second distension arthrogram, the symptoms resolved in 137 cases (74.5%) with no further intervention being required. An arthroscopic capsular release was ultimately required in 41 cases, comprising 1.7% of the entire cohort.


We found a low rate of repeat intervention following distension arthrography in patients with adhesive capsulitis of the shoulder, at long term follow-up. Greater volumes of distension are associated with lower rates of recurrence independent of capsule rupture.

Cite this article: Bone Joint J 2020;102-B(5):606–610.

Correspondence should be sent to Jamie A. Nicholson; E-mail:

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