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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.