Select country
Membership information
0800 561 9000
Medicolegal advice
0800 561 9090
Refine my search

A frozen shoulder

Post date: 27/09/2012 | Time to read article: 2 mins

The information within this article was correct at the time of publishing. Last updated 19/07/2018

Mrs H, a 54-year-old gardener, had been complaining of left shoulder pain for several weeks. It had become gradually worse, affecting her normal daily activities and causing her significant sleep disturbance.

As Mrs H’s shoulder became progressively stiffer, she was referred to Mr Z, consultant orthopaedic surgeon. Mr Z made a diagnosis of frozen shoulder, and sought to manage this conservatively with nonsteroidal analgesia and physiotherapy treatment.

Unfortunately, after three months, Mrs H’s symptoms had not improved. After suitable verbal counselling, Mr Z administered an intra-articular steroid injection and reviewed Mrs H two weeks later. Again, Mrs H’s pain had not improved, and her range of movement remained severely restricted. Mr Z discussed the option of surgical management with Mrs H, explaining that he could perform a shoulder arthroscopy and manipulation under anaesthesia. Mr Z documented in the hospital notes that he had a “long chat” with Mrs H as a way of informing her of the implications of the planned procedures, although he did not write down what possible complications were discussed.

The patient underwent the combined procedure. Mr Z confirmed the diagnosis of frozen shoulder, also identifying some rotator cuff degeneration. He performed a debridement of the rotator cuff as well as a subacromial decompression, injecting a mixture of local anaesthetic and adrenalin as part of his standard practice for this procedure. It all went uneventfully and the patient was discharged home the following day.

Although the mobility on the affected shoulder improved, the pain became worse. Mr Z suspected a possible injury to the axillary nerve that could have accurred at the time of the manipulation under anaesthesia or during the arthroscopy. He asked Dr N, a colleague neurologist with special interest in nerve injuries, to review Mrs H.

Dr N could not find any neuropathy or evidence of nerve injury to explain the increasingly severe shoulder pain. Mrs H made a claim against Mr Z on the basis that there had been nerve damage during the operation, causing her worsening pain. She alleged that Mr Z had not warned her that this was a possible complication of the surgery. She also claimed that had she known of this surgical risk, she would not have had the procedure.

An expert commissioned by Mrs H supported the thesis that during the manipulation under anaesthesia an excessive force was used, resulting in nerve injury. The expert also stated that on the balance of probabilities, had the patient known this risk, she would not have had the procedure. He supported this on the fact that no written consent, including risks, benefits and alternatives, was given to the patient. He concluded that Mr Z had acted negligently.

On the other hand, an expert on behalf of MPS stated that if the patient had a nerve lesion, this was most likely to have been present prior to surgery. He said that even if this injury occurred during the procedure, this was such a rare event that Mr Z could not be found negligent. Given the strength of our defence expert’s opinion the case was taken to trial and the court found in favour of Mr Z. He was able to rely on a causation defence.

Learning points:

  • Unforeseeable adverse outcomes, while deeply regrettable, are not always negligent.
  • Informed consent is a fundamental part of the decision-making process between the doctor and the patient regarding treatment options. Most regulatory bodies across the world have specific guidance on consent. To ensure consistency in practice, it may be worth considering the use of informed consent templates for specific procedures. A template for a specific procedure may be helpful as an aide memoire, but it is not a substitute for a conversation with the patient.

Share this article

Load more reviews

You've already submitted a review for this item

New site feature tour

Introducing an improved
online experience

You'll notice a few things have changed on our website. After asking our members what they want in an online platform, we've made it easier to access our membership benefits and created a more personalised user experience.

Why not take our quick 60-second tour? We'll show you how it all works and it should only take a minute.

Take the tour Continue to site

Medicolegal advice
0800 561 9090
Membership information
0800 561 9000

Key contact details

Should you need to contact us, our phone numbers are always visible.

Personalise your search

We'll save your profession in the "I am a..." dropdown filter for next time.

Tour completed

Now you've seen all of the updated features, it's time for you to try them out.

Continue to site
Take again