Exercises Frozen Shoulder

Jun/10/2022 / by KT
Image credits: Freepik

If you’ve ever heard someone say they had a frozen shoulder, it’s a painful and often annoying condition where the shoulder joint capsule freezes in the socket. The condition is very stiff and for some extremely painful as they have a loss of mobility. Hence, the shoulder is basically locked in place making it temporarily impossible to raise or lower your shoulder or turn it from side to side.

Around 2 in every 100 adults will get a frozen shoulder during their lives. Because it’s easy to get a frozen shoulder and it can last several weeks, here’s information on exercises frozen shoulder to help treat it and tips on pain relief.

What is a Frozen Shoulder?

Picture a shoulder that you can’t lift over your head. It’s very stiff and won’t move like it’s locked in the socket. Every year around three million people in the US get a frozen shoulder. Not sure if you have a frozen shoulder? Do a frozen shoulder test.

Frozen shoulder (adhesive capsulitis) comes from scar tissue in the joint capsule. It’s an inflammation that thickens and contracts, causing a tightening in the area which eventually decreases movement in the shoulder joint.

Symptoms of a frozen shoulder can include pain if sleeping on the affected side. The person might also experience pain with any movement of the affected shoulder, restricted motion and an aching or dull pain.

Who Can Get a Frozen Shoulder?

Common in women aged 35-50 and the elderly, a frozen shoulder can limit your range of motion. Depending on your daily activities, you might have problems working, dressing yourself, bathing properly and doing your hair. And, a frozen shoulder can last for several weeks, months or years if left untreated.

Stages of Frozen Shoulder

Given that a frozen shoulder can last long-term if not treated, it’s important to have it diagnosed and treated early.

Stages include:

  • Phase 1: From 2-9 months, the stiffness and pain increase and worsen at night if the person lies on the affected side.
  • Phase 2: From 4-12 months, the mobilization is limited and stiffness continues. Muscles in the surrounding area become weak.
  • Phase 3: From 5-24 months, the person notices decreased stiffness and pain as movement starts to return.

Get more information about the phases of a frozen shoulder.

How Do People Get a Frozen Shoulder?

Frozen shoulders can occur with a stroke, fracture, surgery,  mastectomy, injury or inactivity. Here are a few examples of how you might develop this condition.

They include:

Frozen Shoulder from an Injury

Certain injuries can cause a frozen shoulder or lead to it.

These include:

  • A rotator cuff tear (muscle tears near the shoulder joint)
  • A dislocated shoulder (when the humerus dislocates from your shoulder blade socket)
  • Impingement syndrome (tendonitis: inflammation in the tendons of the rotator cuff)
  • Subacromial bursitis (inflammation in the bursa at the supraspinatus tendon and coracoacromial ligament)

Frozen Shoulder in the Elderly

People can get a frozen shoulder from inactivity. It can happen in the elderly who have stiff ligaments and can’t raise their arms where the joint is locked in position. A doctor may recommend physical therapy.

Frozen Shoulder from Inactivity

Another way to get a frozen shoulder is with inactivity if the shoulder is locked in a position for too long. Similar to how the elderly might get a frozen shoulder, if you sit for several hours or days at a time without raising your arms, they can freeze up.  

Treatment for Frozen Shoulder

From injections and stretching to supplements and wraps, there are several ways to treat a frozen shoulder. 

These include:

Visit a Doctor

A doctor who specializes in treating frozen shoulders might use imaging like an MRI or CT, physical examination, x-rays and lab tests to confirm it’s frozen shoulder. They might recommend injections for the pain and gently manipulate the joint to alleviate the stiffness.

The benefit is you can find some relief right away as the doctor may recommend anti-inflammatories and physical therapy. A downside is that if you don’t have insurance, seeing a doctor for a frozen shoulder might be expensive.

Try Exercises Frozen Shoulder

Do you need exercises frozen shoulder or frozen shoulder stretches you can do at home? If you want to try exercising your shoulder yourself, you might be able to find some relief but it might take time and occur gradually. Warm up the shoulder before starting by taking a warm shower or bath for 10-15 minutes. Or, apply a warm towel or heating pad to the area.

Frozen shoulder exercises include:

Exercises Frozen Shoulder

Armpit Stretch

  • If you have a shelf high enough, put the affected arm on the shelf and gently bend your knees. Don’t have a shelf to stretch on? Watch as Dr. Jo demonstrates alternative frozen shoulder stretches.
  • Start to bend your knees. It will stretch the armpit gradually. Then slowly straighten your legs back up. Stop if you feel pain.
  • As you progress, stretch further each time but don’t force the stretch.
  • Do 10-20 of these daily.

Cross-Body Stretch

  • Performed standing or sitting, with your good arm, pull the affected arm by the elbow across your chest. Watch an example of crossbody / posterior stretch.
  • Apply gentle pressure to stretch out the shoulder.
  • Hold this for 15-20 seconds but slowly withdraw if you feel pain.
  • Do 10-20 of these daily.

Finger Walking

  • As an effective frozen shoulder physical exercise, with the affected side up at waist level, stand near a wall. Here’s an example of finger walk for frozen shoulder.
  • Let your fingers start to walk up the wall like a spider. It will slowly raise your arm so let your fingers do the work, not the affected arm. Stop when you feel discomfort.
  • Gently lower the arm to relax it and repeat.
  • Do 10-20 of these daily.
Image credits: Freepik

Inward Rotation

  • Similar to the rubber band exercise, this takes the affected side in the other direction. See an inward rotation example for frozen shoulder here.
  • Put the band or pantyhose on a doorknob but if it slips off, put it on the outside doorknob and close the door.
  • With the affected side at a 90-degree angle, pull the band toward your other arm and extend about 2-5 inches while you hold this for up to 5-seconds.  
  • Do 10-15 of these daily.

Pendulum Stretch

  • Lean over a table with the affected arm down and let it swing as you make small circles. Try to complete 10 circles or revolutions in both directions. See Dr. Alan’s tips and the best frozen shoulder exercises to do at home.
  • Extend the circles about a foot in diameter and do this once daily.
  • As you improve, widen the circles. Let it be natural and not forced as gravity will help to work.
  • Once you progress you can do this with 3-5 lb weights in your hand.

Therapy or Rubber Band Stretch

  • This is best with a therapy band but if you don’t have one you can use super strong rubber bands or pantyhose. Here are other ways to exercise frozen shoulder with therapy bands.
  • Hold the item between your hands at your side at a 90-degree angle. Then slowly turn the arm of the affected side out like you’re opening a door.
  • Aim for 2-5 inches apart and hold this for up to 5-seconds.
  • Do 10-15 of these daily.

Towel Stretch

  • Picture wiping your back off after a bath or shower with a towel. It’s the same motion.
  • Grasp one end of a towel with the affected side and hold the other end with your other hand. Having trouble? Watch a frozen shoulder towel stretch here.
  • Because the affected side is stiff, gently pull the towel down with your hand from the unaffected side.
  • Do 10-20 of these daily.

Try Ayurvedic Remedies

Ayurvedic healing practices are other options to consider. Centuries’ old, these are natural and holistic healing methods that don’t rely on prescription medications to treat a frozen shoulder or Ababahuka.

Ayurhealing treatment options might include:

  • Kashayas and Aristas are internal and external oils that block toxins in the body.
  • Kerala and Panchakarma therapies can calm any disrupted vata levels. Panchakarma can include steam baths and oil massages with Narangakizhi and Nasyam.
  • Elakizhi is a massage oil with special herbs that strengthen the shoulder.
  • Nasal insufflations with herbal oils can remove toxins and relax the shoulder muscles.
  • Herbal medications might include Guggulu, Rasna or Nirgundi for joint pain relief.

Use Specialized Relief Products

There are different ways to treat a frozen shoulder over-the-counter if you want to try pads, ice and heat or medications and bands.

Options include:

Avoid Getting Frozen Shoulder Again

A concern if you have a frozen shoulder once is not getting it again. Ensure that you exercise both arms daily and do the recommended stretches. If you are working from home or sedentary, continue your daily activities (change your clothes, brush your hair) to avoid your shoulders always being down. You also need to avoid quick, jerky motions that might cause a shoulder injury as it might lead to a frozen shoulder. These are all steps that can help you to keep your shoulder muscles and joints strong (and hopefully injury-free).

FAQ about Exercises Frozen Shoulder

What is the fastest way to heal a frozen shoulder?

Sometimes time can heal a frozen shoulder. If it doesn’t heal on its own you might need to contact a doctor for injections.

What is the main cause of frozen shoulder?

Frozen shoulder can occur if you have a shoulder injury or are sedentary and don’t use your arms daily. Examples include people who sit on their computers and slouch on pillows can get it from inactivity. It can also occur with bursitis, a dislocated shoulder or rotator cuff tear.

Does walking help frozen shoulder?

No, the shoulder needs time to heal. Do gentle shoulder exercises (towel stretch, armpit stretch, inward and outward rotation) daily and apply heat (hot shower, warm bath, heating pad) for relief.

How do you unfreeze a frozen shoulder?

When a doctor unfreezes a frozen shoulder, they may inject the surrounding area with pain medicine and gently manipulate the shoulder to break up the adhesions.

What happens if frozen shoulder is not treated?

If left untreated, a frozen shoulder can lead to increased stiffness, arthritis and limited mobility/range of motion.

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