Frozen shoulder, also known as adhesive capsulitis, is a condition characterized by stiffness and pain in your shoulder joint.
It occurs when the fibers in the capsule or group of connective tissue in the shoulder tightens around the joint. This restricts movement and causes a lot of pain and discomfort. It is a common condition and can affect one or both shoulders.
A person with a frozen shoulder will experience persistent pain and a stiff shoulder joint. However, the signs and symptoms develop gradually in three different stages.
- Freezing or painful stage: In the first stage, the shoulder becomes stiff, then movement becomes very painful and limited. The pain is usually worse during the night.
- Frozen or adhesive stage: In the second stage, the shoulder becomes stiffer, limiting range of motion.
- Thawing stage: Finally, in the third stage, movement in the shoulder begins to improve.
The exact cause behind a frozen shoulder is not yet known. However, most people with frozen shoulder have experienced immobility as a result of a recent injury or fracture.
People age 40 and older, especially women, are more likely to develop frozen shoulder. Also, people with prolonged immobility or reduced mobility of the shoulder are at higher risk. People who have diabetes, a thyroid problem, cardiovascular disease or Parkinson’s disease are also at greater risk.
Most people recover from a frozen shoulder within two years without surgery.
When it comes to treating a frozen shoulder, applying cold compresses initially, followed by hot compresses is very effective. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, may also reduce inflammation and alleviate mild pain.
At the same time, frequent, gentle exercises can prevent and possibly reverse stiffness in the shoulder. In fact, the American Association of Orthopedic Surgeons suggests exercise as a key element to reduce stiffness in the shoulder joint.
However, before you start doing exercises, keep in mind that you must always warm up your shoulder muscles. You can do this by taking a warm shower or bath for 10 to 15 minutes. You can also put a moist warm towel on the affected area for 10 to 15 minutes, but it may not be as effective.
Here are some of the top exercises to fix a frozen shoulder.
1. Pendulum Stretch
This exercise stretches the space housing the tendons and relieves pressure on the tendons. One can do this exercise soon after a shoulder injury.
- Stand straight and relax your shoulders.
- Lean over slightly and allow the affected arm to hang down.
- Start swinging the arm in a small circle, about 10 times in a clockwise direction.
- Follow that with swinging the arm counterclockwise 10 times.
- Do this exercise once daily in the beginning, gradually increasing the number of reps as you are able.
Once you notice improvement in your condition, you can add a small amount of weight in your hand and then swing your arm slowly.
2. Towel Stretch
This simple exercise will help reduce the stiffness around your shoulder and also increase mobility.
- Use a towel of about 3-feet long.
- Stand straight and hold one end of the towel with your hand.
- Slowly, bring the towel behind your back and grab the opposite end with your other hand.
- To stretch your shoulder, pull one end of the towel upward with one hand, while pulling the bottom of the towel downward with the other hand.
- Do this 10 to 20 times daily.
3. Finger Walk
This exercise helps increase shoulder flexibility. It also provides relief from pain.
- Stand in front of a wall, keeping an arm’s length distance from it.
- Using one arm, slowly reach out and touch the wall with your fingertips, keeping your arm slightly bent at waist level.
- Slowly walk your fingers up the wall, moving your arm upward as far as you can reach comfortably.
- Walk your fingers back down the wall to the starting position.
- Repeat 10 to 20 times.
- Finally, repeat with the other arm 10 to 20 times.
4. Cross-Body Arm Stretch
This exercise stretches your side and rear deltoids, in order to release tension and increase flexibility in the arms as well as shoulders.
- Sit or stand in a comfortable position.
- Use your right hand to lift your left arm at the elbow.
- Gently bring it up and across your body as far as possible without causing pain, exerting gentle pressure to stretch the shoulder.
- Hold this position for 15 to 20 seconds.
- Relax and repeat 10 to 20 times more.
- Repeat the whole process with the other arm, too.
5. Armpit Stretch
This stretch exercise helps loosen the tightened shoulder lining and reestablish your normal range of motion.
- Stand in front of a shelf that is breast-high.
- Place your right arm on the shelf.
- Slightly bend your knees to open up the armpit, and stretch the armpit as comfortably as you can.
- Straighten and relax the armpit.
- Try bending a bit deeper each time, up to 20 times daily.
- Repeat with the other arm, too.
6. Arm Circles
This is another good exercise to improve the overall range of motion of your shoulders. This exercise also increases blood flow across the joint capsule and tissues, which aids the healing process.
- Sit on a flat surface, keeping your back straight.
- Place your left hand on your left shoulder.
- Try to make small circles in the air, both clockwise and counterclockwise.
- Repeat the process with the right side.
- Do this simple exercise 2 or 3 times a day.
7. Back Clasp
Back clasp is another exercise that helps improve the flexibility of shoulder muscles and joint ligaments. It also helps restore full range of motion of the affected shoulder.
- Stand straight with your legs wide apart.
- Lift your hands slowly and bring them behind your head.
- Clasp your hands behind your back.
- Keeping your arms stable, slowly raise them over your head.
- Stop at the point of maximum resistance and hold this position for 30 seconds.
- Repeat about 10 times.
- Do it 2 to 4 times a day.
8. Shoulder Flexion
This exercise helps reduce stiffness by promoting joint activity in a vertical motion. To perform this exercise, you need to first secure a pulley on top of a door or with a hook on a wall.
- Stand straight with your back supported by the wall.
- Using the pulley handle, lift the unaffected arm in the air in full-extended motion, while keeping the injured arm by the side of your body.
- Hold this position for a few seconds.
- Extend the injured arm over your head, while keeping the unaffected arm by the side of your body.
- Relax and repeat the exercise again.
- Do it 10 times to complete a cycle.
- Do this exercise at least once daily.