Capsulitis: Symptoms and Treatment

16 January, 2020
Capsulitis is a common injury in sports such as basketball or volleyball. In the following article, we'll explain the symptoms and the treatment of this common condition. Have you ever suffered from capsulitis?
 

When practicing sports or doing regular physical activity, it’s common to suffer certain injuries. Most of these conditions are mild and resolve on their own within a few days. One of the most frequent lesions is capsulitis. In this article, we’ll cover what symptoms it produces and what treatment you should follow to eliminate it in no time!

Capsulitis: what is it?

The joints in the human body are very complex structures. Joints are formed by bone and structure that fit together, and they also have a surrounding fibrous tissue made of collagen fibers. This fibrous tissue covers the joint and forms a capsule.

This joint capsule, on certain occasions, may become inflamed. In turn, this inflammation can lead to capsulitis.

In short, capsulitis is an injury that usually occurs due to bruises. This condition is especially frequent in the shoulders, fingers, and toes, mainly in sports such as basketball and volleyball that use the arms.

Of course, capsulitis isn’t an injury exclusive to athletes or people that work out. For us to understand it correctly: this injury is also common in children, especially in the finger joints.

Capsulitis is a common injury among young people who play soccer or basketball. When the ball hits a finger, the next day it may become noticeably inflamed. In this situation, capsulitis occurs in the interphalangeal joints, although it can actually occur in any joint in the body.

Of course, it’s important to note that when capsulitis occurs in the hands and smaller joints, the most frequent cause is bruising or physical trauma.

 
a painful shoulder can be a warning sign

On the other hand, shoulder or hip capsulitis is often associated with age or work stress. In other words, capsulitis in larger joints is a rare problem for young people even if they happen to bruise the area.

Another fact that we must take into account is that capsulitis is very difficult from other joint-related conditions. Although the symptoms are similar to those of other injuries, capsulitis doesn’t involve any tissue breakage. This is a completely different situation than with sprains or breaks.

In the case of capsulitis, all symptoms are a consequence of the inflammation of the fibrous capsule.

Symptoms of capsulitis

As you probably already suspect, inflammation is the most prominent symptom of capsulitis. Of course, there are other warning signs that you should be aware of:

  • In most cases, you’ll feel a sudden inability to move the affected joint. If we consider the example of the child who hits his fingers with a ball, they may be suddenly unable to move their finger for a couple of days after the incident.
  • Capsulitis occurs frequently in the shoulders, fingers, and toes. In the case of older patients or people, with strenuous physical work, the shoulders and hips are usually affected.
 
  • The main symptom of capsulitis is that the area will be swollen with inflammation. In joints such as the shoulder or the hip, the symptom may be that of internal pressure, as if something inside was preventing the joint from moving properly.
  • In the case of smaller joints such as the fingers or toes, capsulitis might cause bruising in the skin. This can show as red or purple over the affected area. Most of the time this is because there may be extravasation of blood that causes a bruise.

Treating capsulitis to avoid further damage

Treatment is a fundamental part of recovering as soon as possible from a capsulitis injury.

In some cases, especially in age-related capsulitis in the shoulder or hip, it’s very common for people to go for weeks or months without proper treatment.

Aside from this, in mild capsulitis such as those that occur in the fingers, proper care will resolve the condition within a few days.

What you can do at home

Of course, we always recommend a consultation with a medical professional if you suspect you might have capsulitis. A medical professional will be qualified to offer treatment adjusted to your needs and injuries. In the meantime, here are some measures that can be useful to deal with the issue:

  • Start by immobilizing the area. This is key to avoid further inflammation. In the case of interphalangeal capsulitis, you should immobilize the fingers with a bandage or tape. If you’re dealing with capsulitis in the shoulder or hip, it’s recommended to have proper rest and consult with a traumatologist to decide the best way to immobilize the joint.
 
  • We can try to reduce the initial inflammation by applying cold packs to the injured area. If the injury is a couple of days old, you might have more relief if you perform hot-cold contrast baths. It’s best to do this by filling two buckets, one with cold water and the other with hot, and apply heat and cold as needed.
  • In capsulitis that occurs in large joints, the recovery period will be slower. To calm the pain, it may be necessary to take oral analgesics or anti-inflammatory joints.
sports rehabilitation works great to treat capsulitis

Of course, the best course of action is to consult a specialist. It’s always advisable to put ourselves in the hands of a physiotherapist to help us reduce inflammation by manual therapy. A medical professional will also recommend joint mobilization exercises so that we can accelerate recovery and return to our usual activity as soon as possible.

Some ending thoughts

Capsulitis is a frequent and benign lesion in children and young athletes. Of course, in the case of capsulitis in larger joints, the prognosis might be more complex.

This is especially true for people over 60 years of age. In this case, we strongly recommend looking for medical advice.

 

In any case, it’s important to keep an eye out for the symptoms we’ve outlined before. If you see that your symptoms don’t subside after a few days of rest and immobilization, your best bet is putting yourself in the hands of a professional.

This will allow you to start the recovery process as soon as possible and in the most convenient way.

  • Ewald, A. (2011). Adhesive capsulitis: a review. American Family Physician, 83(4), 417–422. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21322517
  • Manske, R. C., & Prohaska, D. (2008). Diagnosis and management of adhesive capsulitis. Current Reviews in Musculoskeletal Medicine, 1(3–4), 180–189. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12178-008-9031-6