Frozen Shoulder? Try These Exercises!

Having trouble reaching the high shelves? A frozen shoulder can be a painful and frustrating condition. When your shoulder feels stiff and immobile, even everyday tasks become a challenge. However, with the proper exercises, you can thaw your frozen shoulder and restore normal function and strength.

In this Injurymap guide, we explain the causes, treatment and diagnosis of a frozen shoulder.

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Krista Bugden Human Kinetics & Rehab Exercise Expert
Medically reviewed by 

What is a Frozen Shoulder?
Why Is It Important to Exercise a Frozen Shoulder?
Safety: Red Flags and Things to Consider Before You Exercise
Exercise for Your Frozen Shoulder

A frozen shoulder is exactly what the name implies; Your shoulder can literally become frozen in place. Typically, this happens after an injury. The body piles on scar tissue around the joint, creating limited movement. And it can become seriously painful to try to move your shoulder joint.

Shoulder anatomy
Generally,about 5% of the population will experience a frozen shoulder. It also tends to occur more frequently in females than males. But what else should you know? And what exercises should you be doing to help alleviate your condition?

In this guide, we will take you through the causes, treatment and diagnosis of a frozen shoulder, before we introduce you to eight easy exercises, that you can do from the comfort of your own home.

Looking for a solution to your frozen shoulder? Try the Injurymap exercise app now.

What is a Frozen Shoulder?

A frozen shoulder, also called adhesive capsulitis, is a condition where your shoulder movement is limited. Often, this restriction in movement occurs through three phases.

The first stage, the freezing stage, is when the shoulder first becomes painful and stiff. Frequently, this happens from an injury, whether it is minor or not. As time goes on, your ability to move your shoulder becomes less and less. The pain may also become worse at night or when you lie on your affected shoulder. This may happen gradually over many months or over only about six weeks.

The second stage, the frozen stage, is when your shoulder remains stiff. Sometimes, the pain lessens. However, you are unable to move your shoulder. This ends up limiting your ability to perform tasks throughout your day, such as reaching for items on a high shelf. Usually, this phase lasts two to six months.

The third stage is your recovery phase. It’s called the thawing stage and it involves the recovery from the frozen stage. Typically, recovery takes anywhere from six months to two years. During this time, you may need to work with a healthcare professional, as well as perform specific exercises, to return your shoulder to normal function and strength.

What Causes a Frozen Shoulder?

Surprisingly, experts aren’t entirely sure why a frozen shoulder happens. Some speculate that it may happen after a period of immobility, such as after placing your arm in a sling after a recent injury. However, other experts also say those with certain conditions may be at a higher risk, such as individuals with diabetes, thyroid issues, cardiovascular problems, and Parkinson’s Disease.

Treatment & Diagnosis

When diagnosing your frozen shoulder, your doctor will ask you to move your arm. The doctor will assess how and if you can use it, as well as your associated pain. Usually, these minor tests are enough to diagnose a frozen shoulder. Image testing is frequently not necessary.

Treatment usually entails a variety of approaches. Exercise and physical therapy are key aspects when it comes to the recovery of a frozen shoulder. The main goal involves stretching the tissues in the shoulder and restoring movement once again. If this type of treatment fails to work, surgery may be considered. However, surgery for this condition is fairly rare and only performed if other non-invasive methods don’t help solve the problem.

Medications may also be taken in combination with exercise and physical therapy. The goal of over-the-counter medication is to reduce the associated inflammation. A steroid injection may also be performed by your doctor, if the pain is severe.

At home, it may help to ice your affected shoulder joint to ease the pain. This is important, especially since over-the-counter anti-inflammatories shouldn’t be taken in the long-term. Consider icing your shoulder for 15-20 minutes at a time with a cloth in between the ice device and your skin.

Why Is It Important to Exercise a Frozen Shoulder?

A frozen shoulder is usually caused by not moving it to begin with. This means that when you have a frozen shoulder, moving your arm is one of the best things you can do. This can help by gently stretching the tissue, breaking through the scar tissue overgrowth, and helping you return to normal function.

However, you don’t want to be in extreme pain doing so. This is why the road toward recovery is slow for a frozen shoulder. It’s about slowly moving the joint more and more until normal movement is restored.

Safety: Red Flags and Things to Consider Before You Exercise Your Frozen Shoulder

Before exercising your frozen shoulder, there are a few things you should consider, including:

1. Knowing Your Limits - The process of recovery is very gradual, and for a good reason. A frozen shoulder has inflammatory aspects. This means that by ignoring pain and moving your shoulder past this point, you may cause damage as opposed to helping your recovery.

2. Stopping When You Feel Pain - A tell-tale sign you should stop any movement? Pain. Pain is your body telling you something isn’t right. Listen to it, and stop the activity until the pain goes away.

3. Performing Your Exercises Regularly - For recovery, you’ll want to perform your exercises on a regular basis. The idea is to gradually progress them so that you can achieve your full range of motion and get back to your regular activities.

4. Start With Stretches Before Strengthening - Generally, gaining back your strength begins after you’ve managed to regain some mobility in your shoulder. Start with simple and easy stretches to improve your shoulder movement, before beginning any strengthening. Once you have some movement restored, you can begin strengthening. Strengthening can also prevent future injury from happening.

All in all, you should talk to your doctor before beginning any new exercise plan. Make sure it is right for you before you get started!


    The following eight exercises offer guidance on where and how to start your recovery process. These exercises are in order of which ones you should start with and eventually others that you may progress to.

  1. Pendulum exercise I
    60 sec.

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    The Pendulum Exercise

    The pendulum exercise can help create space in the shoulder joint. The space created can help alleviate any pain associated with inflammation. It takes the pressure off of certain structures, helping your symptoms lessen. This can also help increase movement at the shoulder.

    • Stand up and bend 90 degrees in the hip.
    • Rest one arm against the knee.
    • Slowly push the other arm back and forth, in and out, and around in larger and larger circles, so that your forearm slowly moves upwards.
    • Continue for one minute.
    • Then repeat the exercise with the other arm.
  2. Circles on a table I
    60 sec.

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    Circles on a Table

    The circles on a table exercise helps gradually improve your shoulder range of motion in a gentle and progressive way. Be sure to keep your elbow fairly stable throughout this one.

    • Sit facing a table with your hand resting on the table and a cloth under the palm of your hand.
    • Slowly wipe off the table in small circles both clockwise and counterclockwise as far as possible in all directions.
    • Make small circles clockwise and counterclockwise for about 1 minute with each arm.
  3. Posterior shoulder capsule stretch
    30 sec. x 3 sets

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    Posterior Shoulder Capsule Stretch

    This is another gentle exercise to help you work on creating more movement in the shoulder. This exercise stretches the tissues and muscles on the back of the shoulder.

    • Stand up.
    • Grasp your elbow with the opposite arm's hand and pull your arm over to the opposite side.
    • Hold the stretch for 30 seconds and perform 3 repetitions with each arm.
  4. Forward bending shoulder exercise II
    10 reps x 3 sets

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    Forward Bending Shoulder Exercise

    This exercise helps, again, regain basic movement of the shoulder. However, you should approach this exercise with caution and only go as far as you comfortably can with your shoulder. Stop before you experience any pain.

    • Tie an exercise band to a solid object.
    • Stand up and bend your hip.
    • Lean forward.
    • Keep your arm outstretched and move your shoulder blade backward so that it approaches the other shoulder blade.
    • Perform 3 sets of 10 repetitions with each arm.
  5. Shoulder exercise with exercise band I
    8 reps x 3 sets

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    Internal Rotation Shoulder Exercise

    This exercise helps strengthen the subscapularis muscle that is responsible for internal rotation of the shoulder. You will need a resistance band for this one!

    • Fixate one end of a low resistance exercise band on a door handle or something similar.
    • Stand up and hold your arm tight to your body and keep the elbow bent 90 degrees.
    • Tighten the exercise band by turning your arm inward.
    • Perform 3 sets of 8 repetitions with each arm.
  6. Infraspinatus exercise II
    10 reps x 3 sets

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    External Rotation Shoulder Exercise

    TThis exercise is similar to the last one, but it is in the opposite direction. In turn, this strengthens the opposite muscles, helping balance out strength and stability in the shoulder. This can help prevent future injury and further guide your journey toward full shoulder movement.

    • Stand up or sit on a chair without armrests.
    • Keep your arm tight to the body and pull your shoulder slightly back.
    • Bend your elbow 90 degrees, and place the exercise band around your hand and hold it with the other hand.
    • Turn the arm outwards so that the exercise band is tightened.
    • Perform 3 sets of 10 repetitions with each arm.
  7. Standing shoulder exercise I
    8 reps x 3 sets

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    Straight Arm Shoulder Blade Pinch

    This exercise helps strengthen your posture, as well as other muscles around the shoulder joint. This can prevent future injury, as well as help improve your range of motion.

    • Take two medium resistance exercise bands.
    • Tie the end of one exercise band to a door handle or a similar object and hold the other exercise band with your hand.
    • Keep your arm outstretched slightly in front of your body.
    • Pull your arm backward to tighten the exercise band.
    • Perform 3 sets of 8 repetitions with each arm.


Treating a frozen shoulder involves a combined approach of exercise and other means. For instance, physical therapy, acupuncture, massage, medications, and ice can help compliment a proper frozen shoulder exercise program. These methods can help you regain movement and strength in the shoulder joint.

At InjuryMap, our app can guide you through exercises to help you recover from a frozen shoulder. You can take your recovery into your own hands. Developed by rehab industry experts, the app addresses your symptoms and the causes of your frozen shoulder.

Start your road toward recovery and download the Injurymap app today!

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About the author

Krista Bugden has worked as a Rehab Exercise Expert at a physiotherapist clinic in Ottawa, Canada for the past 4 years. She has an Honours Bachelor Degree in Human Kinetics from the University of Ottawa. She uses her extensive knowledge in this area to educate others through well-researched and informative articles. Her passions include helping others and inspiring each person she meets to get the most out of their life.