Also known as adhesive capsulitis, frozen shoulder occurs when the capsule—or the membrane—around the shoulder joint becomes inflamed and contracted. A frozen shoulder diagnosis may feel frustrating because the exact cause of this condition is unknown, and it often develops for no apparent reason at all. Frozen shoulder is, however, particularly common in women, diabetics, and people aged between 40 and 60.
The condition has four distinct stages.
In the first stage, your pain increases gradually, particularly worsening at night. This stage typically lasts a few weeks to a few months, during which you won’t notice any changes or limitations to your range of motion.
In the second “freezing” stage, movement in your shoulder becomes restricted in all directions. This will continue over the course of 3 to 6 months.
In the third stage, your pain improves but the shoulder remains stiff and tender. This is referred to as the “frozen” stage, which will also last between 3 and 6 months.
In the fourth and final “thawing” stage, your shoulder regains movement and pain is significantly reduced. At this point, you are able to return to normal activities. The stiffness may persist for up to 9 months before you proceed to a full recovery.
One of our PhysioFirst physiotherapists can diagnose a frozen shoulder during your initial assessment with us, so you won’t have to wait and wonder any longer. In the meantime, we can recommend exercises to help provide you some relief from the pain and stiffness.
Stretches to Relieve a Frozen Shoulder
The following stretches will provide you with some relief for your frozen shoulder and promote a more timely recovery. Remember to always warm up your shoulder for ten to fifteen minutes before attempting to stretch. We recommend taking a warm shower or bath, but a heating pad can be used where this is not an option. While you should push yourself to the point of tension, do not push yourself to the point of pain during any of these stretches. The below exercises are only a few examples of general stretches; however, your physiotherapist will develop a comprehensive tailored exercise program for you in clinic or via telehealth.
#1 - Pendulums
Stand and lean forward slightly with your shoulders relaxed. Swing the arm of the afflicted shoulder in a circular motion (about a foot in diameter) ten times in each direction. Increase the diameter as your symptoms improve, eventually progressing to the use of a light weight (three to five pounds) held by the swinging arm. The pendulum exercise should be performed 2–3 times per day.
#2 - Finger Walk
Facing a wall three quarters of an arm’s length away, reach out and touch the surface at waist level with the fingertips on your frozen side. With a slightly bent elbow, walk your fingers up the wall as high as you can comfortably go. You should be using the muscles in your fingers to lift the arm so that muscles in your shoulder are not doing the work. When finished, lower the arm slowly by walking the fingers back down the wall. Repeat 10–15 times, performing this exercise 2–3 times a day.
#3 - Cross-Body Reach
In a seated or standing position, use your strong arm to lift the arm on your frozen side at the elbow. Bring it up and lay it across your body, exerting gentle pressure. Hold this stretch for 30 seconds to a minute. Repeat 3 times, performing this exercise 2–3 times per day.
Physiotherapy for Frozen Shoulder
In addition to following a specialized stretching regimen and tailored exercise program designed for you by your physiotherapist, we may also recommend further therapies. Both soft tissue massage and shockwave therapy have proven beneficial for treating cases of frozen shoulder in our patients.
Soft tissue massage reduces the tension that often develops as a result of the restricting muscles. This can help restore some range of motion and provide temporary relief. Shockwave therapy sends high-energy acoustic waves through your skin towards the affected areas in your shoulder to promote regeneration of the soft tissues, pain relief, and tissue mobilization.
We’d be happy to tell you more about the ways we can work with you to move you through the stages of frozen shoulder as comfortably as possible and move on with your life. Call us today at 1-833-U-R-HEARD or book an appointment online here. We can’t wait to hear from you!